Sunday, 17 August 2008

God Can Rework Evil


Pentecost 14, Genesis 45:1-15, Joseph sold into slavery. Used at Holy Innocents 17/10/08

"... you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life." (Genesis 45:5)

Just to be clear I'm not one of those that imputes evil to God. Now there is substantial Scriptural warrant for imputing evil to God, but I don't think this is one of them. God is able to rework evil, even to the extent where it is possible for Joseph to say that God sent him ahead into Egypt. The evil perpetrated by his brothers has been so reworked by God in the life of Joseph that Joseph can say that God sent him ahead to preserve life. The brothers sold him into slavery, but God reclaims the evil to make good.

This reworking of evil is close to the meaning of 'Almighty', an apellation directed to God the Father in the Creed. Rowan Williams says it is best translated as 'ruler of everything' or 'holder of everything'. (That is, God's almighty power is not about arbitrary, overriding power.) It means that God never reaches the point of ineffectivenss and is always able to make a purposeful response no matter the depths of evil and seeming defeat. God can bring things new and often surprising out of evil.

The place we see this most powerfully and poignantly is the crucifixion of Jesus. God brings out of the evil of the human heart our salvation at the point of apparent defeat in death. We are saved not just in the resurrection, but in the cross. What an extraordinary reworking of evil! And this gives us some indication of how to approach those passages in Scripture that impute to God the death of Jesus. Let us be clear: human evil killed Jesus. And God can so rework that evil, so make it part of the total outcome of salvation, that yes, we can say that God sacrificed Jesus.

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