“No Longer” or “Not Yet”?

When ever we begin to think about God’s creation the question of evil rears its ugly head. If God is love and the all powerful creator, why is there evil in the world. Some pretend they’ve answered this question by reference back to the Fall: the blame lies with mankind. Just read Genesis 3. But this doesn’t really suffice. After all, if God is love and the all-powerful Creator, why does his good creation contain the capacity for evil and rebellion? However real the Fall is, it can’t answer the most significant questions.

The next chapter in Creation: The Apple of God’s Eye by Justo González considers the question of evil. In this chapter González explores a number of views, but offers no pat answers. In orthodox Christian theology no edge of the triangle can be denied. To a certain extent we must consider it a mystery. Part of the answer must include free will. González looks at Augustine’s “solution” to the problem.

According to Augustine, a central characteristic of free will is that it is its own cause. Certainly, outside factors, experiences, needs, perceptions, and so on do influence our decisions. But whatever in a decision is determined by outside influences is not truly ours. Decisions are ours only inasmuch as they are generated by the will itself. Thus, one may well say that part of the image of God in us is that our will, like God’s, is ultimately self-generated. No matter how much prompted by outside forces, in the final analysis it is not generated by such forces. This is precisely the reason we call it “free.” (p. 54-55)

Augustine classified things as greater goods (virtues) that can never be perverted, and lesser goods that can be turned to good or evil. Power and money are lesser goods. Free will is an intermediate good that can be used to pursue greater goods or to turn lesser goods to either good or evil ends.

Augustine’s solution, and especially the subsequent emphasis on the Fall perverting the will of humankind, is not entirely satisfactory. Even a cosmic fall, before Adam and Eve, doesn’t do away with the problems. When the Fall is invoked as a solution to the problem of evil, the biblical narrative becomes a tale framed by “no longer.” The initial good creation is “no longer” good. Restoration becomes the driving theme. In the age to come creation will be restored to its intended good state.

Not Yet. González looks at another perspective, also found in the ancient church fathers. This is the perspective of “not yet.”

There is, however, another metaphor that also appeared early in Christian history. While the metaphor of the fall sees evil in terms of “no longer,” this other metaphor sees it in terms of “not yet.” Within this metaphor, evil is not to be seen mostly as a fall from primeval perfection, but rather as the present situation of a creation that is still moving to its completion. … There are also hints of this in the passage from Romans … where Paul speaks of a creation “groaning in travail,” as in the pangs of childbirth. For a woman in travail, her pains are not a matter of “no longer,” but rather of “not yet.” (p. 59)

Irenaeus of Lyon provides one example of this approach in the early church. While there are some elements of “no longer” in the biblical narrative, such as “no longer” walking with God, “not yet” is a more pervasive overarching theme.

Note, for instance, that the story that begins in a garden in Genesis leads to a city in Revelation. Both the garden and the city are the work of God: the former at the very beginning of creation, and the latter at the end, when the Holy City descends from heaven. Thus, the process leading from a garden to a city – from simple nature to civilization – is not in itself evil. Humans were always intended to till the land, to grow in their understanding of the world, to use this understanding of the created world to “subdue it” and to organize social life. Evil is manifested in that this process is not straightforward but is convoluted, twisted, full of tragedy and destruction. But it is still growth – and God intends growth. (p. 61)

Evil has permeated our being and our societies. González suggests that evil can attack us in many ways. Of course there is the active commission of evil acts of one sort or another, but this isn’t the only manifestation. “Evil has so permeated our minds and our wills that its mysterious nature is often used as an excuse not to face and oppose it.” (p. 62) The people of God, at their best, have looked forward to a better day and have worked to present a foretaste of that better day in the present. Care for the sick and powerless is one important example. The great commandment is clear – we are called to love God and love others.

This book is designed for use in small groups or other discipleship settings. There are some through provoking questions at the end of each chapter. Among the questions in this chapter:

How are we to live with the reality of evil?

How can we help people find hope?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

You may also comment on “No Longer” or “Not Yet”? at Jesus Creed.

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5 Responses to “No Longer” or “Not Yet”?

  1. jefftomes says:

    Love the topic. Seems we have a distinction without a difference though. Restoration is the same as not yet. If I am restoring my 65 Mustang (which I don’t have), it is not yet what it is going to be. The arbitrary “no longer” would suggest that we have been abandoned, which nobody is suggesting. Seems to me. Thank you.

  2. Robert says:

    Very good post. I often wonder if satan and other fallen angels actually rebelled against God first, why are they not credited with introducing sin into existence as opposed to Adam??? Also, your post makes me wonder about hell. God foreknew the likelihood of sin being a choice all people would make, so it seems to violate His very being as Love by carrying out a judgment like hell when He knew He was allowing for the very act which He judges with impunity. If we examine 1 Corinthians 13, I think we find refutation of hell as it has been traditionally taught. Especially when it says love keeps no record of wrongs and love always perseveres. Eternal conscious torment does NOT sound like persevering to me!!! Hope to hear more from you on these areas.

  3. Bill says:

    I’ve long wrestled with the Problem of Evil. While the free will defense provides a coherent (even if not entirely satisfying) explanation for moral evil, it cannot explain gratuitous natural evil (a mudslide that buries a village, or a child with cancer, for example). I’ve come to the conclusion, for now at least, that the problem is unsolvable.

  4. jono113 says:

    I’ve never understood why we assign moral values such as “evil” to acts of nature. Mud slides, et.al., simply occur; they have no moral value in themselves. Human reaction does. If acts of nature have no moral value the free will defense has greater strength. Whether free will itself actually exists is a different but still relevant topic for debate.

  5. Bill says:

    In philosophy and theology there is no moral culpability for natural evil (no non-divine moral culpability, that is). Obviously there is no human evildoer. The philosophical/theological question is why an omnibenevolent God would cause or permit acts of gratuitous natural evil, that is, suffering that is not due to the exercise of free will or to advance some greater good. Such evil cannot be the result of the exercise of human free will and therefore cannot be in any sense a consequence of the allowance of free will (the existence of which is often said to be evidence of divine love).

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