Summing up a survey of the Bible’s use of combat myths, Jon Levenson ( Creation and the Persistence of Evil , 24) says: “God’s visible victory over the enemies of order is in the past. The present is bereft of the signs of divine triumph. It is a formidable challenge to faith and a devastating refutation of optimism.”

Yet the perspective is not simply one of accepting pessimism: “The absence of the omnipotent and cosmocratic deity is not accepted as final, nor his primordial world-ordering deeds as confined to the vanished past. Present experience . . . is not seen as absolute. Rather, it is seen as a mysterious interruption in the divine life, an interruption that the supplications of the worshiping community may yet bring to an end. The failure of God is openly acknowledged: no smug faith here, no flight into an other-worldly ideal. But God is also reproached for his failure, told that it is neither inevitable nor excusable: no limited God here, no God stymied by invincible evil, no faithless resignation before the relentlessness of circumstance.”

I don’t agree with how Levenson formulates this, but he gets a profound, Pauline truth: In times past, God overlooked sins committed in ignorance, winked at sin. What Levenson of course does not see is that the gospel announces precisely the end of this tolerance. The gospel says that the “interruption” is at an end, and that God’s apparent failure is addressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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