Ehrman on Suffering

At the bookstore tonight I took a look at Bart Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer.

On the cover we learn that Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the index, we see he makes reference to the free will defense on perhaps a half dozen pages. He treats it as a modern theory. He never mentions Augustine or Aquinas. He thinks the Bible regards suffering as a punishment from God. Yet he claims significant credentials, and says that his study of this issue led him to lose his Christian faith.

It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

So this leading scholar, this Ph.D. and professor, came to this conclusion after all this study–study that never included Augustine, Aquinas, or more than a superficial consideration of the role of the free will. The superficial reader who has already rejected God for lesser reasons may find satisfaction in Ehrman’s book–but few others. The book lacks not only the depth one would expect from a scholar (contrast with anything by Alvin Plantinga or Stephen T. Davis on the subject), but also the passion and pathos that has been brought to the topic by folks (like Harold Kushner and Elie Wiesel) who have stared into the face of horrible suffering and yet maintained faith in God.

6 thoughts on “Ehrman on Suffering

  1. Just out of curiosity, how do you know that Ehrman did not examine the works of any of those other scholars? The fact that he does not examine them in this book does not imply that he is unfamiliar with them.

  2. He is purporting to summarize Christian thought on the subject. This is like talking about physics without mentioning Einstein.

  3. I’ve taken a look at the book but probably won’t buy it. But the subject does interest me as it seems to be imprinted on the minds of those who have deeper questions about God and His interaction with us. It might be the biggest hurdle that many have before they can take steps toward a walk with God. Does Ehrman help in this regard, or is it short on solutions and understanding?

  4. Ehrman is justifying his own unbelief, so no, this isn’t a book that’s going to help anyone grapple with these issues.

  5. Thanks for the write up. The link is also great (listening to it was a bit annoying after a while).

    Ehrman will soon become old news.

    Plantinga and C. S. Lewis solved the intellectual problem of evil.

    No serious, respectable Philosopher, denies the existence of God on the basis of Evil.


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