Saturday, June 13, 2009

THe Problem of Suffering

I just finished this book tonight.

Ehrman tells the reader that he was so struck by his struggles with the problem of suffering that it led him out of the faith. In this book he discusses a variety of Scriptural answers to the question of suffering and why he finds all of them unsatisfactory.

I share the struggle with theodicy. I too wonder why bad things happen to good people (and the corollary of why good things happen to bad people). ANd, like Ehrman, I find that many of the answers are unsatisfactory.

The thing is that it just doesn't make sense. As it has been put before, if God is Good then God is not GOD, and if God is GOD then God is not Good. Why do people starve? Why are people so cruel to each other? Why do earthquakes flatten whole villages? If God is, as Scripture claims repeatedly, in charge of everything then why does GOd cause or allow these things to happen?

On the whole I liked the book. HOwever, I had trouble figuring out how Ehrman approaches Scripture and theology. He claims that his academic work forced him away from a literalist approach to Scripture but it still seems at times that he holds on to that literalism. Same with theology. As someone with a doctoral degree in theology you would think that he knows there is a multiplicity of atonement theories in Christian thought but he maintains there is only one -- substitutionary sacrificial satisfaction. Admittedly this ties in to what he is trying to say about what may well be the most common answer to suffering (punishment for sin) in Scripture but still...

In the end I answer the question of suffering with a combination of SCriptural and non-Scriptural answers. It is a mystery (the poetry of Job and the philosophy of Ecclesiastes). It is a reality that will be changed when GOd's reign comes to pass (apocalypticism). And overall, maybe God is not GOD (meaning that God is not all-powerful, all controlling).

But the book is well worth a read. It gives one a chance to explore this issue that, honestly, troubles many people of faith. ANd even if there is no answer we need to ask why there is suffering and what our appropriate response to to that suffering is.


  1. I'll keep an eye out for the book - it looks like a good one. For me, the problem of suffering and God comes down to this: Either God is all-powerful and cruel OR God is all-loving and mysteriously lacking in some degree of power.

    I opt for the second, which is very close to your Mystery/Reality perspective.

    On the other hand, I have a close friend whose life situation has made her so angry at God that she can hardly articulate it.

    It seems as if we have a choice when life simply sucks: We can either turn TO God or we can turn AWAY from God. For better or worse, at least we can be thankful for the choice.

  2. THat is largely wher I com to as well Sue. And I think it is sort of where Ehrman comes (although he also leans to the "vanity of vanities" approach of Ecclesiastes.

    But as he notes, such a position really is not Scriptural. And given the portions of autobiography he includes in the book I don't think it would fit in with the flavour of Christianity within which he was living.