May 18, 2008

Ehrman – the ‘problem of evil’ and a personal journey

“The problem with evil” is where the collision between ideas of an omnipotent god and an omnibenevolent one hit the road.

It’s THE emotional/psychological reason many people question their faith, whether Christian, or perhaps Jewish or Muslim, and why some of the more courageous of them, willing to live with their new answers, leave their old faiths behind, especially if they have also raised and wrestled with intellectual questions such as the validity and accuracy of their bibles or other spiritual books.

Bart D. Ehrman has made such a journey, on both the emotional and intellectual sides. The Duke University New Testament professor deals with the “problem of evil,” often known by the theological name of “theodicy,” in his good new book, “God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer.”

On Amazon, it got 1-starred by a lot of conservative Christians who simply couldn’t stand to see their worldviews challenged.

My response? Is your faith actually that weak, then?

Two-star reviewers there are either that, or people who can’t stand to have Ehrman provide a litany of suffering.

Well, that’s exactly why he needed to do that. Hardened hearts take more effort to break down.

After starting with the Holocaust and other examples of litany, Ehrman takes a look at what the Bible says about suffering.

Of course, and contrary to 1-star reviewers, the Bible was not written as one book, with one theology.

There are several theologies on suffering, including two different, uneasily co-existing ones, within the book of Job, cited by most Christians as the exemplar of such a theology.

First, there’s the theology of the Torah and the prophets: You sinned, and that’ why bad things are happening.

Then, there’s Job. Neither the prose nor the poetic sections ever say Job is a sinner. That’s not even on the lips of Yahweh (poetry) or Eloah (prose) sections of the book, again, contrary to what many people think.

In the prose section, we get a capricious God playing a giant poker game with The Satan, in his role as God’s devil’s advocate. Ehrman rightly notes the ending of the book, in the prose section, is offensive. God waves his magic wand, and restores all Job had lost, including doubling his family size with additional children popping up out of nowhere.

On the poetry side of Job, he notes Yahweh never gives Job an answer, which Paul also notes in Romans. Job never gets his this-world advocate (and NO, he is not asking for a Messiah to die for his sins with “my redeemer liveth, burn your KJVs) to argue his case before Yahweh that he is indeed blameless.

From there, Ehrman moves on to address the Stoic/Existentialist view of suffering in Ecclesiastes. He says as an agnostic that this is something he can accept; we’ll probably never get a “why” answer.

From there, he wraps up with Daniel, the book that originated the apocalyptic explanation for suffering that permeates the New Testament.

For me, this is a solid four-star book. Drawbacks? It’s a bit thin; I’d love to have heard more of Ehrman’s personal story. And, although he’s a New Testament scholar, to the degree he’s comfortable, I’d love to hear him tackle theodicy in other world religions.

For more on books I like, see my Amazon top-1,500 review link at right.

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