Bart EhrmanThis is obviously a very difficult issue to address in 300 words or less!!! I have devoted a book to the question, God’s Problem (HarperOne, 2008), and even that is very much only barely scratching the surface.
So, let me give just a brief background. When I was teaching at Rutgers in the mid-1980s, I was asked to teach a class on the problem of suffering as presented in different parts of the Bible. That was a revolutionary experience for me, as I realized in teaching the class just how many explanations for human suffering can be found in the Bible. Some of them are at odds with one another. I explain all that in my book.
When I taught the class, I was a deeply committed Christian. And I continued to be for years afterward. But I began to wrestle deeply with the problem of suffering. There are some kinds of suffering that make sense (to me): humans do wicked things to one another, involving such awful experiences as incest, rape, torture, mutilation, killing, war, and so on. Those things one can explain on the basis of free will. If we weren’t free to do such things, we would not be fully human (I think that explanation is problematic, as I detail in my book, but it would take too long to explain why here).
I couldn’t believe that there was a God who cared about his people and was active in the world and intervened on behalf of those in need and answered prayer, when there is an innocent child who starves to death every five seconds.Other things are less explicable: famine, drought, hurricanes, tsunamis, birth defects, and so on — all leading to horrible, unimaginable suffering. How do we explain these things? I used to have explanations (based on what I had read in biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, and so on). But I got to a point where I just didn’t think it made sense any more. I couldn’t believe that there was a God who cared about his people and was active in the world and intervened on behalf of those in need and answered prayer, when there is an innocent child who starves to death every five seconds.
I certainly don’t buy the Augustine view. It’s all well and good to say that suffering makes us better, makes us more noble, brings a greater good. But what about that poor three-year-old child who starved to death since you started reading this paragraph? She had to experience such gut-wrenching agony to make my life, or anyone’s life, the world’s life better? And that’s true of all the children who have starved to death — millions of them, just over the past few years (not to mention all the years since Augustine was writing). I came to a point where I just didn’t believe it.
This is, of course, well-trodden ground. There's a lot I could say. And I've said it before. For now I'll make two brief observations:
i) I've reviewed Ehrman's book:
ii) By Ehrman's own admission, the Bible contains many accounts of moral and natural evil. In addition, Bible writers were undoubted acquainted with many other examples of moral and natural evil that they never have occasion to write about in Scripture. It's illogical to say the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of Yahweh when, in fact, the Bible constantly depicts Yahweh coexisting with evil. Indeed, you have unbelievers who think Yahweh commits or commands evil. So how could moral and natural evil even count as evidence for Yahweh's nonexistence?
The argument from evil typically uses an abstract philosophical construct as the standard of comparison, rather than the concrete deity of living religion and historical revelation. Not Yahweh, but perfect being theology.