WeeklyTech #131

Thomas F. Torrance on the nature of evil

Last week in this newsletter, I highlighted an article I wrote at ERLC entitled “What the horrors of war teach us about the nature of morality”, which focused on the objective and innate understanding of good and evil on display with the widespread solidarity that the world has shown in support of the Ukrainian people in this time of war. The response to this unjustified war reminds us that as created and dependent beings, we simply can not avoid using the objective moral language of good and evil in light of these tragedies. In that piece, I quoted theologian Thomas F. Torrance on the objectivity of moral evil and today I wanted to share the fuller context of that quote.

Dr. Torrance, who served as emeritus professor of Christian dogmatics at the University of Edinburgh, writes in Divine and Contingent Order about how the universe itself reveals to us certain truths about God, ourselves, and the world around us. By contingent, Torrance explains that this does not simply entail the way things are, but that they did not have to be that way as they could have been very different (vii). He explains that this fuller sense of contingency is bound up in the biblical conception that God freely created the universe ex nihilio, or out of nothing, and through his sustaining grace. Contingency, then, reminds us that the universe is not self-sufficient or ultimately self-explainable, but that it is “given a rationality and reliability in its orderliness which depends on and reflects God’s own external rationality and reliability” (viii).

Speaking to the reality of an objective moral order — including the problem of evil — he reminds us of the power of the resurrection that has overcome evil and how Christians can better think about the nature of evil through a theological and ethical lens:

The actual situation is this: evil would present no problem to us at all — we would not even be aware of it — if there were no objective and coherent rational order, for what ‘constitutes’ evil. ‘Evil’ is its contradiction of objective order on the one hand and its negation by that objective order on the other hand. Evil rises up and confronts us, disturbing and entangling us in its strange impossible actuality. How are we to understand it, or rather, how are we really to understand the understanding we already have of it?

It is the claim of Christian theology that some measure of understanding evil is possible, because the objective divine order of the good and rational does not merely negate evil but lays hold of it in a re-creative and re-ordering movement with a view to mastering it, repairing what is disordered, and making it serve a fuller dimension of order than might have been possible otherwise. This is not to claim that evil may be explained in any way — quite the contrary — but that God himself has acted in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, in such a way as to deal decisively with the actuality of evil where it has entrenched itelt in the depths of created existence and to overcome its alienating and disruptive movement, shoring up from below, as it were, the divisions and discontinuities which have erupted into the world. It is because the ontological and epistemological situation has been altered in that way, that Christian theology ventures to say something definite about evil which could not be said from any other ground. But it does so only with a prayer for forgiveness for blindness and error, in the realization that the presence of evil continues to damage our relations with God, with the world, and with one another, so that our thought is characterized by a certain brokenness which does not allow us to think the truth through consistently to its proper end…

It is above all in the Cross of Christ that evil is unmasked for what it actually is, in its inconceivable wickedness and malevolence, in its sheer contradiction of the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, in its undiluted enmity to God himself — not to mention the way in which it operates under the cover of the right and the good and the lawful…

The resurrection tells us that evil, even this abysmal evil, does not and cannot have the last word, for that belongs to the love of God which has negated evil once and for all and which through the Cross and resurrection is able to make all things work together for good, so that nothing in the end will ever separate us from the love of God. (114-115)

The Rundown

Ukraine conflict splinters the global internet – Ashley Gold | Axios

A universal internet where every user can access the same messages and services has long been held up as a global ideal, but as democracy falters and governments limit usage, it looks to be receding out of reach.

Russia Duma Passes Law on ‘Fake News’ – The Moscow Times

On Friday the State Duma passed a law introducing punishment for spreading fake news about the Russian Armed Forces and the military operation in Ukraine, statements that discredit the armed forces, and calls for sanctions on Russia. 

The Twitter Surveillance State – Taylor Dotson | The New Atlantis

Once upon a time, an ill-advised comment or action drew an appropriately stern rebuke from a friend or a boss or a stranger; today it draws a public firestorm that can ruin you. So now everyone is on guard, because everyone is watching.

Why Data Isn’t Divine – Jag Bhalla | Issues

Who, or what, can we put our faith in now? Many would say we should trust in technology, which delivers feats once deemed miraculous on a daily basis. But as Meghan O’Gieblyn spiritedly argues, our ungodliest techno-triumphalists often unwittingly resurrect old god tropes.