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.