Wednesday, June 11, 2008

God's Problem

(also posted at the Exponent II)

Anyone up for a group discussion of Bart Ehrman's book God's Problem?

Bart Ehrman was raised a devout Christian, spending an extensive college career devoted to the Bible and training to become a minister. After serving for some time in various churches he found himself becoming more and more conflicted about how the Bible (and the Christian tradition) tries to explain why people suffer. In God's Problem, Ehrman delineates the contradictory explanations put forth by the Bible, contradictions which he eventually could no longer reconcile, leading him to leave Christianity; "I finally... came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic; I don't 'know' if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn't the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world." (pg 4) The idea that there was an all powerful AND all loving God could no longer held any credibility for him in the face of "young children kidnapped, raped and murdered... millions starving, suffering horrible and excruciating lives that lead to horrible and excruciating deaths... [and] sadistic tyrants savagely [attacking] and [destroying] entire villages, towns, and even countries..." (pg5). He asks the poignant question: "If God is at work... feeding the hungry with miraculous multiplication of loaves, why is it that one child- a mere child!- dies every five seconds of hunger? Every five seconds." (pg 6)

In this book Ehrman addresses and compares the major explanations put forth by the Bible, including:

-suffering as a punishment for sin
-suffering as a test of faith
-suffering as beyond comprehension since we cannot understand God
-suffering as just the nature of things and needing to be accepted
and, of course...
-don't worry, God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world.

Ehrman's conclusion is that,if there is a God, he could be either all powerful but doesn't care, or all loving but unable to help; however, in the face of all historic evidence, he cannot possibly be both. And if, on the other hand, he is too mysterious for us to understand, than it is impossible to make any statements about either his omnipotence or his loving nature.
God's Problem is a defense of that thesis.
(Go here to read an excerpt from God's Problem, or to listen to the NPR interview with Bart Ehrman.)

I realize many of you out there will want to tackle these (blasphemous?) charges right here and now, but please resit the temptation to do that. We will be discussing this book on July 9th, and I would LOVE to hear your responses to Ehrman's claims, and your own thoughts on how you answer the problem of why people suffer at that time.

Now for those of you really disturbed that we are reading a book by a Christian who lost his faith, hang tight. Next month we will read the spiritual memoir of an atheist who became Christian and has devoted her life to Christ's work of feeding the hungry.

7 comments:

Bored in Vernal said...

I'm in! Thanks for organizing this, it's a great idea.

Elizabeth-W said...

Every copy in my library system is checked out and I'm about 10th down in the queue. I'll look forward to the discussion, regardless.

angryyoungwoman said...

I've never believed in an "involved" god. I've always thought of god as there to give love, but incapable of changing anything. Not a very christian view, I guess. I always just figured he set the creation ball in motion, we evolved, and he let the laws of nature work it all out. I do want to read this book, though. It might be a good guide on my tricky little search through religions.

flygirl said...

This is a great idea! I saw this book at a bookstore in the airport and almost bought it, so I think I will now. The question of suffering is my biggest problem with God and though I don't stress about it like I used to, I am slowing working on what I believe/think.

Lessie said...

For those of you who are LDS (and I already mentioned this to G), you might try, The Philosophical Foundations of the Mormon Religion, by Sterling McMurrin. Pretty good stuff and interesting insights into these kinds of questions.

Numismatist Facts said...

I found my comfort in Buddhism. I consider myself to be agnostic (formerly an active LDS who still holds the church in high regard). The Buddhists use the term "suffering" although it has a different meaning.

Good luck with your searching.

djinn said...

Years to late; Jesus was distorted (created?--my bro, I think he was an actual quick-witted rabbi) by the later authors of the gospels to project their vision of the world. So, we have Revolutionary Jesus -- dump your family to follow me! Kind Jesus -- be nice to everyone including those losers, the prostitutes and samaritans, etc.