God’s Problem or Bart’s Problem?January 16, 2010
Bart Ehrman has recently published a book titled ‘God’s Problem – Why the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer’. Ehrman is not a Christian, yet he is a scholar, has a Ph.D (maybe hanging in his bathroom), and has been “studying this stuff for 30 years” (a direct quote), so therefore Christians should shut up and listen to him, and non-Christians can finally have supposed intellectually satisfying reasons for denying God’s existence. Sarcasm aside, I wanted to give my quick thoughts on the excerpt to this book.
Perhaps Ehrman writes these kinds of books because he’s hostile to Christ as Rom 6:6-8 teaches, does not view Christ rightly but suppresses the truth in unrighteousness as Rom 1:18-20 teaches, thus makes himself out to be god by supposedly putting God on trial with his 30 years of studying and “expertise”. This book is tantamount of Ehrman’s heart in that his idea of Christ is one that is unsatisfactory. And unfortunately ideas, especially such as these, have consequences – hence this book.
“In times of questioning and despair, people often quote the Bible to provide answers. Surprisingly, though, the Bible does not have one answer but many “answers” that often contradict one another. Consider these competing explanations for suffering put forth by various biblical writers: The prophets: suffering is a punishment for sin. The book of Job, which offers two different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; and suffering is beyond comprehension, since we are just human beings and God, after all, is God. Ecclesiastes: suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it. All apocalyptic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world. For renowned Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, the question of why there is so much suffering in the world is more than a haunting thought. Ehrman’s inability to reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of real life led the former pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church to reject Christianity. In God’s Problem, Ehrman discusses his personal anguish upon discovering the Bible’s contradictory explanations for suffering and invites all people of faith–or no faith–to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world”
The assumption here is that the Bible has competing explanations for suffering. The major thing that is overlooked in this spewed out statement is that the Bible ALSO gives different reasons for suffering. Within the context of the prophets in the OT, they were warning Israel to turn from its idolatrous ways, otherwise judgment would come upon them. The suffering which Israel faced (many times it didn’t face and should have because God was patient and merciful to a rebellious people) was due to outright intentional violation of God’s already clearly revealed laws and will for His people.
Now about the book of Job, Job did NOT suffer as a test. Job Himself knew that God is omniscient. In Job 21:22 Job says, “can anyone teach knowledge to God?”. Thus if God is all-knowing, He can’t test people to learn what they will do in response! He already knows everything. It must occur to us that nothing has ever occurred to God. Ehrman simply needs better theology, and a heart of flesh. If we’re going to talk about “competing” ideas, it would be Ehrman’s competing interpretation of Job with Job itself. Job never “passes the test of suffering” either. While Job does not curse God for his suffering, he still challenges God’s ways in that he wishes to put God on trial and ask God why He ordained that when he knows he committed no great sin to deserve it.
Also, the book of Job does not teach that suffering is beyond our comprehension. More correctly, it teaches that God is beyond our comprehension, THEREFORE we can rest assure that suffering in the form of tragedy is something we can remain hopeful through. But only if our hope is placed in God who is not safe but is always good – as C.S. Lewis said. The more we can grasp and understand the things that only God can do, the more we can rest in His sovereignty amidst freak accidents. Nothing else and no one else can provide sure hope out of suffering like the very one who created all things and holds all things together for His glorious purposes. Job got it, why can’t Ehrman? Again, because he needs a heart of flesh in place of his heart of stone.
On to the other point about suffering, Ecclesiastes teaches that suffering is the nature of things, only in a particular context though. The context of Ecclesiastes is, well, many things. For example, this book deals with ironies of life, existentialism, the search for legacy, acknowledgment of death, practical wisdom, why the finite is complete vanity, etc. Ecclesiastes deals with the topic of suffering, not from the perspective of why we suffer, but moreso states that its part of the human experience. We can expect life to seem unfair. Even life seemed unfair to Job, yet he didn’t correct God and say “even though I can now trust you in all things by understanding how great you are, my feelings of unfairness compete with what I now understand.” Job was surely more righteous than his 3 accusing friends, yet their families didn’t die. Ecclesiastes shows us this is part of life, while Job shows us that God even ordains this and we can still trust Him through it.
The end of the excerpt says that Ehrman wants people to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world. Well I want Ehrman to confront what should be one of his deepest questions, namely, why God allowed Himself to suffer more then all of us! Jesus Christ suffered God’s own eternal wrath upon the cross (Isa 53:5,10). If God can bring about the pinnacle of His glory intended in the creation of this universe by crushing His Son for the redemption of sinners, then how easily can God bring glory to us who suffer less?
Then I’d like to know by what worldview Ehrman can claim that suffering is even a reality and is more then what Naturalists believe, that we are just star dust and atoms bumping into atoms. If that’s true, then there is no suffering, just the illusion of it.
Lastly, what does Ehrman place his hope in when it comes to the reality of suffering? Does he place it in not placing it in Christ, the God of Scripture? How is that really working for him and what other god is he placing his hope in instead of Christ? What attributes does this god have which are supposedly somehow superior to the God of Scripture? What is Ehrman’s special revelation of this god? Does Ehrman even give a damn about any of these things or does he just wish to regurgitate Christian polemics for the sake of polemics. If he’s really a seeker of the truth, then what is his superior worldview? That way we may critique it as he tries to do with Christianity and see if it’s really any better. Is Ehrman only going to tell people not to be Christians until he dies, or is he ever going to suggest a worldview which is more consistent and satisfactory? I’ll be waiting… 🙂