excuses, excuses

I spent a chunk of the weekend getting back into P. T. Forsyth as I started working on the next post in my Christology series — dealing with the Judge’s cross. I’m desperately trying to resist throwing up a patchwork of quotes from The Justification of God.

But I won’t be able to get to it until after I speak at the La Trobe Uni Christian Union lunchtime ‘open talk’ tomorrow. I’m speaking about evil.

And I’ve found Terry Eagleton’s new book, On Evil, really stimulating as I’ve got stuck into preparation. Take this cracker, for instance (p 123):

Traditionally, evil is seen not as sexy but as mind-numbingly monotonous. Kierkegaard speaks of the demonic in The Concept of Anxiety as “the contentless, the boring”. Like some modernist art, it is all form and no substance. Hannah Arendt, writing of the petit-bourgeois banality of Adolf Eichmann, sees him as having neither nor any demonic dimension. But what if this depthlessness is exactly what the demonic was like? What if it is more like a minor official than a flamboyant tyrant?

When it comes to my talk, this is my rough plan at the moment (I’m launching out of Mark 5):

  1. Incomprehensible? Evil events (like 9/11) are greeted with cries of ‘incomprehensible’. And we’re right to resist attempts to explain them away with excuses drawn from extenuating circumstances, etc…
  2. The evil reality of evil. Yet we can drive the incomprehensibility thing so far that we end up with no way to condemn evil. If evil just happens — mysteriously, inexplicably — then its evil reality is undermined.
  3. God’s response to evil. In Jesus God doesn’t so much resolve the riddle of evil as confront it, plumbing its evil depths and overcoming it, signing its death warrant (for it has no ultimate future in the world Jesus has reclaimed).

What do you reckon?


  1. It sounds like a great talk. This is quite fresh thinking. The concept of evil being without depth is kinda new for me but strangely it seems plausible.

    I have often thought about the fragile balance between good and evil in our own lives, how simple it is to switch from one to the other.

    The other thing it reminds me of is the harshness of Melkor’s evil song in the beginning of The Silmarillion, to paraphrase from memory: “loud, violent, repetitive clanging” in contrast to the beauty of the rest of the song.

    Just noticed on closer reading that you seemed to have ditched the content of the quote in your talk. Eagleton talks about the depthlessness of evil, you refer to Jesus plumbing its depths. Do you think evil is profound or not?

    This little phrase ‘world reclaimed’ is also interesting.

    Hope the talk goes well!


    1. Thanks John! I’ll let you know how it goes.

      Nice pick up on my departure from Eagleton. On Evil was very stimulating — and I think there is an important sense in which evil is ‘depthless’ (Paul says something like ‘we know that an idol is nothing in all the world’ in 1 Cor 8). But I’m not sure he quite gets there in the end. Unsurprisingly, I found the Marxist twist he gives things at the end unconvincing. And I think part of why I don’t want to press the ‘depthlessness’ thing too far is that evil seems to be a genuinely threatening depthlessness/nothingness (and I suppose it’s also deep in the sense that it’s not just ‘out there’, but that it goes right down within us — springing up from within our own hearts).

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