Wonder Woman and the problem of evil
Whilst there is never a quick or easy answer to the problem of evil, I was pleasantly surprised to see the issue thoughtfully addressed in the latest summer blockbuster movie, Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and released in UK cinemas last week.
The film begins in modern-day Paris, with Diana Prince, a.k.a Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), reminiscing about her time fighting in the First World War in 1918:
I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago.
The action whisks us away to the hidden island of Themyscira, where Diana grows up believing that the war god Ares is behind all the evil in the world. She is told that it is he who causes humanity to commit the terrible evil that they do. And so, if she can defeat Ares, then humanity will be set free from his influence, and all the evil in the world will be eradicated.
On the other hand, American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who crash lands his warplane in the ocean next to their island, and has seen the atrocities of the Great War first hand, is skeptical of Diana’s ‘god of war’ talk and faced with the death of innocent children and the slaughter of men and women around him, screams at Diana: ‘We’re all to blame’.
In one poignant scene, Steve admits to Diana that it would be comforting to be able to blame all the evil of the world on one sinister figure but the evidence he sees all around him, as well as the evidence in his own heart, means the blame has to lie with humanity.
Now, I will not spoil the ending for you but watching the film did remind me of the nuance in the Christian response to the problem of evil both in its natural cause (human sin) and its supernatural cause (the evil one). Under the Christian worldview we are not forced to choose between one of the two options, as it is set up in the film, because the Bible speaks of both human sin and the work of the devil as the reason for all the evil in the world.
If we blame all the evil in the world on the work of the devil alone, we fail to do justice to the great darkness within each human heart. On the other hand, if we only blame the evil in the world on human sin, we fail to do justice to the one whom Jesus calls ‘a murderer from the beginning’ and ‘the father of lies’ who is at work in this world doing evil and distorting what is good and pure (John 8:44).
When we see innocent, defenceless children and young people deliberately targeted in an appalling and callous terrorist attack as we have done this last week at London Bridge and as we did on 22nd May in Manchester, the terrorists are definitely to blame for their sickening actions and they will have to give an account on judgment day. But Jesus says there is also an evil influence at work too, poisoning people’s minds with an evil ideology whilst calling it good.
Perhaps it is because as a culture we are becoming more aware that the cause of evil is not straightforward that Wonder Woman is more nuanced than the classic ‘goodies and baddies’ narrative.
What then about dealing with evil? If the Bible’s analysis is accurate then for evil to be finally eradicated from this world we need our hearts to be dealt with and the devil to be destroyed. The film, Wonder Woman, ends with Diana Prince resigned to the fact that there will always be ‘dark and light’ in humanity and ‘no hero can save them’. But in the person of Jesus Christ, we have a Saviour who came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). To trust in him, therefore, is to be certain of a future where one day evil will finally be no more. There is a healthy realism to this biblical assessment and also, crucially, there is hope - two virtues which we are in sore need of right now.