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Bart Ehrman on Problem of Suffering – UCB

On April 17th, 2008 I appeared on a show called “Conversations with History” with host Harry Kreisler, sponsored by the Institute of International Studies, Regents of the University of California at Berkeley.  The show was called “Biblical Insights into the Problem of Suffering,” and was based on my then recently published book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer.”

Harry Kreisler is the creator, executive producer and host of the Conversations with History series. Conceived in 1982 by Mr. Kreisler as a way to capture and preserve through conversation and technology the intellectual ferment of our times, Conversations with History includes over 500 interviews. Harry Kreisler was the Executive Director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley (1974-2014).  In that role, he shaped, administers, and implements interdisciplinary academic and public affairs programs that analyze global issues.

Below, beneath the interview, were some thoughts on the book that I wrote up at the time.   I think I still agree with much of what I said then!

Bart Ehrman: How the Problem of Pain Ruined My Faith

For most of my life I was a devout Christian, believing in God, trusting in Christ for salvation, knowing that God was actively involved in this world. During my young adulthood, I was an evangelical, with a firm belief in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God. During those years I had fairly simple but commonly held views about how there can be so much pain and misery in the world. God had given us free will (we weren’t programmed like robots), but since we were free to do good we were also free to do evil—hence the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia, and so on. To be sure, this view did not explain all evil in the world, but a good deal of suffering was a mystery and in the end, God would make right all that was wrong.

In my mid 20s, I left the evangelical fold, but I remained a Christian for some twenty years—a God-believing, sin-confessing, church-going Christian, who no longer held to the inerrancy of Scripture but who did believe that the Bible contained God’s word, trustworthy as the source for theological reflection. And the more I studied the Christian tradition, first as a graduate student in seminary and then as a young scholar teaching biblical studies at universities, the more sophisticated I became in my theological views and in my understanding of the world and our place in it.

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

I read widely in the matter. I read philosophers, theologians, biblical scholars, great literary figures and popular authors from Plato to Sartre, from Apuleius to Dostoevsky, from the Apostle Paul to Henri Nouwen, from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot to Archibald Macleish, from C. S. Lewis (with whom I was very taken) to Harold Kushner to Elie Wiesel.

Eventually, while still a Christian thinker, I came to believe that God himself is deeply concerned with suffering and intimately involved with it. The Christian message, for me, at the time, was that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to us humans, and that in Jesus we can see how God deals with the world and relates to it. He relates to it, I thought, not by conquering it but by suffering for it. Jesus was not set on a throne in Jerusalem to rule over the Kingdom of God. He was crucified by the Romans, suffering a painful, excruciating, and humiliating death for us. What is God like? He is a God who suffers. The way he deals with suffering is by suffering both for us and alongside us.

This was my view for many years, and I still consider it a powerful theological view. It would be a view that I would still hold on to, if I were still a Christian. But I’m not.

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.

As it turns out, my various wrestlings with the problem have led me, even as an agnostic, back to the Bible, to see how different biblical authors wrestle with this, the greatest of all human questions. The result is my recent book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer. My contention is that many of the authors of the Bible are wrestling with just this question: why do people (especially the people of God) suffer? The biblical answers are striking at times for their simplicity and power (suffering comes as a punishment from God for sin; suffering is a test of faith; suffering is created by cosmic powers aligned against God and his people; suffering is a huge mystery and we have no right to question why it happens; suffering is redemptive and is the means by which God brings salvation; and so on). Some of these answers are at odds with one another (is it God or his cosmic enemies who are creating havoc on earth?), yet many of them continue to inform religious thinkers today.

My hope in writing the book is certainly not to encourage readers to become agnostic, the path that I took. It is instead to help people think, both about this biggest of all possible questions and about the historically and culturally significant religious responses to it that can be found in the most important book in the history of our civilization.

Did the Earliest Christians Believe Jesus *Became* God?
Jesus’ Virgin Birth in Mark (Reader’s Mailbag February 26, 2016)



  1. talmoore
    talmoore  February 28, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, the problem of suffering was one of the things that pushed many men of the Enlightenment to adopt Deism. They figured if there is a God, all evidence points to Him not being overly concerned with the fate of humanity. Have you ever read Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason? And if so, was it before or after your de-programming?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 29, 2016

      I read it both before and after!

    • Avatar
      Steefen  March 2, 2016

      I wrote a play on the Age of Reason. It is called Water Bearing Fish, Part I by Steefen (my pen name). Deism seemed irrational to me when I was reading Paine’s pamphlets, The Age of Reason, Parts I and II.

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    doug  February 28, 2016

    The question I sometimes offer for believers is: “Do you believe it is a GOOD thing that God lets babies with major birth defects scream in pain for days until they die?”.

    • Avatar
      Omar6741  February 29, 2016

      The reply I like to give to questions like this is:
      “Do we get to judge God, or does He get to judge us?”
      This life is about OUR responsibility…including our responsibility to prevent needless suffering from happening…

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 29, 2016

        Problem is: we don’t really know if God judges at all. But we do often know what we consider good and bad. Our judgment is all we have. The rest is, so far, only belief.

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    rivercrowman  February 28, 2016

    Enjoyed it!

  4. cheito
    cheito  February 28, 2016

    DR Ehrman:

    Everyone dies eventually.
    No one gets out of here alive, not physically.
    Why is that? Do we really die?
    I found in the teachings of some books in the bible that no one really dies.
    God is the God of the living and the dead.
    Does anyone really know why people live and die?
    Is life a beautiful gift even if you die at birth?
    What happens to a child that dies of hunger or at birth?
    Do we really know?
    Is God fair or is He unjust?
    Will a thousand years pass?
    Will a million years pass?
    What will reality be like then?
    Will God be found guilty or will he be acquitted of all charges against him?
    Is life a beautiful gift or not?
    Is life a glorious mystery?
    Aren’t we fortunate to be part of this mystery of life?
    What about those who die of old age?
    Why do some have success and peace throughout their lives and others don’t?
    Is all evil and is there no good at all?
    Is evil really all that powerful?
    What happens after your body dies?
    Do you really know?
    Is the sky blue?
    Does rain fall down from the clouds in the sky?
    Why are there fruit trees?
    Is the Earth our home?
    Why does do we have air to breath?
    Did God make any promises?
    Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
    How long will you live?
    What will happen to you when you stop breathing?
    Where will you go?
    Is God fair or is He unjust?
    Does God answer prayer?
    Do we have to make choices?
    Does God make choices?
    Everyone dies eventually.

    • Avatar
      webattorney  March 12, 2016

      Very eloquently put. It’s a pity that I will die without having answers to most of your questions.

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    madi22  February 29, 2016

    The reason Christians don’t deeply think about it Bart is because it would make them feel uncomfortable, it would require emotional investment in the reality of horrible global problems. Looking into it will leave them distressed and confused. Most Christians don’t even know about the disgusting events in the old testament. The best way for Christians to still serve Jesus without this area bugging there conscious and walk is by simply desensitizing themselves towards it. Hence why believers get annoyed or roll there eyes over the fact non believers claim they wont believe based on that (which is understandable to be skeptical of the christian God!). Its good you bring this up because its all very well to be a western christian living in a country with no concept of war, sex trafficking, child marriage and so forth in front of our eyes on a daily basis. Keep putting it out there for Christians because as far as im concerned the lack of questioning and blind faith in a simple answer or accepting no answer is somewhat insulting to the humans suffering everywhere. ps. Im still a believer in Jesus unbelievably but am finding some of this stuff beyond ridiculous!

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    RonaldTaska  February 29, 2016

    Wow! Thanks for sharing all of this. As always, I admire, and yes, envy, your clear thinking, clear writing, incredible honesty, and “huge” productivity. It all has been incredibly helpful to me. I certainly agree that those who believe that God is constantly guiding their lives in very personal ways are missing the “big” picture of where is God during all of this suffering????? For me, the only two real remaining questions are how did all of this incredible universe, or multiverse, just “bang” from nothing and then how did that first unicellular life spring forth from chemical elements?. Quite a mystery indeed! Maybe God created it, did not like the quality of Her work and so went on to try to do better work elsewhere. Just joking, but that is what it feels like.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  March 2, 2016

      RonaldTaska: God is constantly guiding their lives in very personal ways are missing the “big” picture of where is God during all of this suffering?????

      God is constantly guiding our lives in very personal ways.
      As for where is God during all of this suffering?????
      God is amoral to those who do not communicate with God.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 14, 2016

        Kind of like saying the Red Cross won’t come and help a person unless that person, specifically, calls for help. I don’t care if you’re crushed under a fallen building because of the earthquake and in excruciating pain. If you don’t pray for my help or believe I once suffered for your sins, I’m not gonna help you.

      • Avatar
        turbopro  May 7, 2016

        If we accept that the Christian god exists, the omni god, that is, how does one not communicate with such a being?
        I ask because I’m curious as to how that would work.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 9, 2016

          How does one *not* communicate? I guess by never thinking about him.

  7. Avatar
    godspell  February 29, 2016

    Much as I respect the beliefs of any human being on this issue, I can only regard them as beliefs–the atheist side being as faith-based as the theist. The world is too complicated to be fully understood, and much as I agree that standard Christian theology can’t explain suffering away, the fact is that if you believe there is an afterlife, where good is rewarded and evil punished, it all does make sense. I myself see no need for an afterlife–a long peaceful sleep would suit me fine. I do rather wish I could live my life over again, and fix the mistakes I made the first time, but I can’t find any religion to promise me that (Hinduist reincarnation doesn’t quite fit the bill).

    The problem, as you already know, is that Christianity (and probably all other religions as well) has always tried to have it both ways–why would God need to answer prayers in this world, if this world is only a preparation for the next?–but people tend to respond poorly to a religion that tells them this life can’t be improved, that they must accept their sad lot–even the wealthiest most fortunate people may experience horrible loss, and question God’s mercy.

    My own feeling is that we were given life, and that the complex life on this planet is such an extreme anomaly–still not proven to have any counterpart anywhere else–that we have to regard that as a miracle, and as a gift beyond compare. What we make of it is up to us. Maybe somebody up there likes us, maybe not. Maybe we’re not so likable. But I will not curse God. I will curse those who have made this world a hell, and bless those who try to make it better. And note in passing that few in any camp seem in much hurry to leave this veil of tears a minute sooner than need be.

    • Avatar
      webattorney  March 12, 2016

      I think your perspective is very practical and mirrors my own. Maybe I think that I came up with my own religion that is suitable for me (not to persuade others to believe) which is as good a solution as any organized religions.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 14, 2016

      Godspell, in what way do you think “the atheist side being as faith-based as the theist”? Some atheists do not insist there is not God but are atheists simply in virtue of having no belief about the existence of any god. What faith do they base that on?

      why would “the fact is that if you believe there is an afterlife, where good is rewarded and evil punished” make sense out of the human condition? It doesn’t explain why there is so much suffering in the world, only that those who are good in the midst of it all will be rewarded, etc.

      Also, I no longer use language like “we were given life” or life is “a miracle” or “a gift.” “Given” implies a giver and, as far as I think we really know, we just all come out of the womb and find ourselves here on the world and then some start making up stories “explaining” it all. I’m an existentialist: we find that we are here, alive. Period. The rest is speculation and dreams.

  8. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  February 29, 2016

    My answer is, God is present in people who act to relieve the suffering of others. This god is not all powerful or all knowing, but it’s as good as we choose to make it. Thank-you for all you do!

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 14, 2016

      Why add an invisible layer to to the actions of those “who act to relieve the suffering of others”? Such actions are good. Period. Adding that some god is somehow there adds nothing to the picture or, at the very least, is purely speculative without adding any additional information.

  9. Avatar
    Steefen  February 29, 2016

    Earth phenomena (rain, fires, poisonous plants, animals, insects, etc.) make us suffer.
    Human Life (pains of giving birth, pains of maturing, aging, death) makes us suffer.
    Individual Life Expression among members of society makes us suffer.

    Odd expectation: Because suffering exists, an entity’s existence is in question.
    For all the soldiers in an Ancient Roman army who suffered in war, a god’s existence was not in question but a god of war was firmly established.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 29, 2016

    Excellent! This interview was long enough that the interviewer could spend some time just talking with you, and still devote enough to the book and the issues associated with it.

    Some thoughts that aren’t about any specific religion, but a belief that can be held by theists and non-theists: reincarnation. I “incline strongly” to belief in reincarnation. Unfortunately, some misuse the concept, by assuming that people are suffering because of their misdeeds in past lives. An easy explanation for everything! But very dangerous. If reincarnation is a fact, we can’t generalize about how it works, and we should never listen to “gurus” who claim some special expertise.

  11. Avatar
    Jana  February 29, 2016

    What your questioning has lead to in my own clarification not only in Christianity but also two other religions … asking ‘what is the nature of God or Divinity and role?’ After reading your blogs and books, I too agree that the Bible doesn’t answer questions about suffering. In Tibetan Buddhism, suffering is one of the three basic Buddhist precepts. Everyone suffers. It is a given as in all sentient life. There is no God involved. After watching so many Sir David Attenborough nature videos, suffering appears to be endemic even in the less complicated life forms. My recent inquiries have been prompted by your blog questions. Thank you Dr. Ehrman.

  12. Avatar
    ebateman  February 29, 2016

    I grew up in Berkeley when it was a really nice college town. I wonder how you found it now decades later. Regarding suffering, I think that we’re all on a spiritual path of our own, and while it’d be lovely if there were no suffering, I’d say that we’re made stronger by the crap that we have to go through. That said, I’ve never lost a child. I’ve never been starving to death. I’ve never had a loved one murdered or been driven out of the country of my birth by extremists. I can see how it would be really difficult to believe in a God who allows hungry bellies and hollow eyes in a country’s children, and other atrocities, or lives where there has never been a moment of happiness. Don’t know what to say to that. I’m trying to decide how I feel about God and/or Jesus without all of that chaos. Good luck to us both.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 29, 2016

      Yup, I’ve enjoyed it very much each time I was there.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 29, 2016

        Ever stay at the Faculty Club? We quite enjoyed it there. We love all the different restaurants along and off of Telegraph and at student prices. It’s not quite the same, though, without Cody’s.

    • Avatar
      webattorney  March 12, 2016

      Like you said, unless you experienced some real bad crap that happens to you or your loved ones, you can hold on to the view that the purpose of suffering is to make you wiser and build your character etc. This is the standard line given by many pastors that since we are going to spend the eternity in heaven the purpose of our brief lives is to build our character through faith and suffering and whatever. I am not saying this perspective is not attractive or practical, but at the end of it all, it’s not convincing for me. Besides I am not looking for any answer as if someone else has it for me. If you watched as many wild life documentaries as I have, I am GLAD that I am not THAT wild hog who is being eaten alive piece by piece by lions, or a baby wild beest who is eaten as soon as it comes out of its mother’s womb.

  13. Avatar
    Omar6741  February 29, 2016

    And this is why Muslims should not think that Professor Ehrman has any concern with converting to their faith….his issues are more to do with theism generally, and not to do with who has the more perfectly preserved scripture.

  14. Avatar
    Omar6741  February 29, 2016

    Just out of curiosity, what do you think of the philosopher Peter Singer’s view that anybody who has any surplus wealth is being immoral because they could have given that wealth to help the suffering? (It’s *something* extreme like that…)
    I ask because if Singer is right, then God could well judge most of us by the standards we use to judge Him — after all, we could have done a lot more than we actually do to help the suffering.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2016

      I think it is a hugely complex question, surplus wealth.

      • Avatar
        webattorney  March 12, 2016

        The problem is the “surplus” wealth may become “negative” at any point UNLESS you have millions of dollars. But I agree that at certain point, more money becomes meaningless unless you view the additional money as a means to help your loved ones or even those you don’t personally love.

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  March 14, 2016

          I don’t look at a wealthy person and think about what they should be doing with their money. If someone is obscenely wealthy, like certain corporations that control a mass population, I feel that’s different. That kind of wealth could actually cause suffering. But most people on an individual level, I would hope they have a heart for helping others, but I don’t feel I should be meddling in their affairs.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  March 2, 2016

      How much surplus wealth are you talking about? A few thousand, a million, several million?

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 29, 2016

        Did you see on 60 Minutes the billionaires who have gathered and pledged to give away at least 1/2 their wealth? I think Warren Buffet and Bill & Melinda Gate organized it and led the way.

  15. Avatar
    Judith  February 29, 2016

    Every time you mention a child dying every five seconds from starvation, I want to point out how it may not be all God’s fault. Perhaps a woman should not have a baby she cannot take care of? People dying from not having clean water to drink – is that God’s fault? Is He responsible for the rivers being polluted and the seas trashed? If Bill Gates is on a quest to liquify the sun rays for stored energy, dealing with malaria and many other such problems should be possible. Of course, you’re just making a point but I’m thinking you’re being a little unfair.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2016

      I’m not saying it’s all God’s fault! (I can’t say that: I don’t believe in God!)

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 14, 2016

      What kind of God would that be who would say, “It’s not my fault so I’m not gonna help you.”

  16. Avatar
    Ibn.Fawda  March 1, 2016

    This may seem to be an odd request, but will you define what you believe an evangelical to be? And a fundamentalist? These two terms seem to always be applied to conservatives (politically Republican and white … Probably in the South). But there are also literal (and creationist) believers on the left also (e.g., AME). So, as a non-believer, will you provide a brief definition of evangelical, fundamentalist (and other terms) as it applies to Christianity in the USA (AA Christians, white Bapists, etc…). I ask because evangelical and fundamentalist generally is associated with white southern Christians. But there are other serious believers who seek and rely on conversion who are not white or southern… Just curious about how you see these labels.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2016

      Well, it’s hard to come up with an all-encompassing set of definitions. In short-hand, I would say, with respect to their views of the Bible, that fundamentalists would think that every single word of the Bible comes from God and is to be taken as literal truth (even stories of creation, Adam and Eve, etc.). Evangelicals are not as hard-lined, but do tend to think that the Bible is inspired and that nothing that it actually teaches is in error. I would say most evangelicals are less concerned about the literal interpretation of the Bible and more about a personal relationship with Christ, with implications for undersdtanding the Bible as the inspired guide to all faith and practice.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 14, 2016

      I live on the West Coast and have met many fundamentalists and evangelicals. There are many outside the South. Not everyone in California is liberal–witness not only Orange County but less-educated, blue-collar people and others throughout the state. There is also the question of whether we mean a more formal and historical meaning of “fundamentalist” (see Christian fundamentalism” in Wikipedia and elsewhere) or how the man on the street means it. The latter seems to merely mean “dogmatic Christians” and, by that, they seem to mean Christians who think their religion or faith is the one and only way to find salvation or have the right relationship with God.

      • Bart
        Bart  March 15, 2016

        Right, the South doesn’t have exclusive claims on such people!

  17. Avatar
    Boltonian  March 1, 2016

    Good interview.

    Anthony Kenny followed a similar path, as described in ‘The Unknown God.’ I assume that you are familiar with his work.

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    Pattycake1974  March 1, 2016

    I think Isaiah 45:7 describes God perfectly: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
    What could human suffering mean to a God who created evil in the first place? If the bible is correct in describing God’s characteristics, then God has multiple personalities. Sometimes he cares and other times, not so much.

    I’ve said before that the evolutionary process is driven by our desires and preferences. One is the God concept. Another is to be free from suffering and to be brought back to life. It seems impossible that a dead person could come back, but when I look at the beginning of life–as in an egg and a sperm cell—it seems just as impossible that a human being with a conscience and self-awareness would ever come from that. It’s difficult for me to say that there’s no God (or *something* bigger than us) when the universe acted upon us to exist and not the other way around.

    • Avatar
      Boltonian  March 2, 2016

      An interesting angle on this came to me a few years ago after reading, ‘The Goldilocks Enigma,’ by the eminent physicist, Paul Davies (now with SETI). He postulated in one of the chapters that it was more probable (by an order of magnitude) that we lived in a simulated universe than a real one. From memory he used a variant of the Drake equation to arrive at that conclusion.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  March 2, 2016

      Even in the god-notion that God is a Matrix of the Solar System giving us the study of Astrology. God creates evil. Of course God creates the infrastructure for humans to manifest evil. Humans are supposed to study astrology for Self Work, to develop character and self-control to not manifest the inclinations of the Solar System Matrix. There are some conjunctions, oppositions, and squares that are potentially dangerous. Even with Jupiter, too much excess/riches causes problems too.

      Lay over your astrological knowledge the lessons of Christianity to help yourself ascend the basic instincts set by Mother Earth and the God Solar System Matrix.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 14, 2016

      But you could maybe say, “There is no God that I know of.” Regarding God’s character, if you haven’t already read it, you might enjoy Jack Miles’ Pultizer Prize winning book, “God: A Biography.” It’s terrific.

  19. Avatar
    Michael  March 19, 2016

    Bill Mahr may be crude but when he says “Religion exist because people are scared shitless of death”, he is making a very simple but profound comment on why it is a common thread. Suffering is one more part of that fear.

    We traded emails a while back on my similar conflict with faith driven by my Cousin Mark’ death at 14 months from a brain tumor. This past summer my sister Lindsey was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. He then called, left a voicemail for his parents, and then put a bullet in his head.

    One of the things in the aftermath i found was trying to be calm as people tried to give me religious sympathy and explanations. Where is the mysterious plan, or purpose in those two deaths?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2016

      I”m so sorry to hear about both incidents.

      • Avatar
        Michael  March 20, 2016

        Thank you. I so much prefer real sympathy than the false attempts to explain how I am going see them later, or that there is some plan. I have come to simply accept the idea that loss is in all likelihood permanent.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  March 19, 2016

      I can’t even imagine how you feel right now. So sorry for your loss. 🙁

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    evanball  March 29, 2016

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,

    I just finished reading God’s Problem. Loved it! I’m curious why you didn’t focus on the Fall as a reason for suffering. I hear Christians (pastors, apologists) reference our fallen world all the time when discussing suffering. I’m guessing you didn’t focus on this explanation because it is less the position of any biblical author than it is a construct of later theologians. Nonetheless it seems to factor heavily into the Christian worldview.


    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2016

      Yup, that’s why. I was talking about biblical views of suffering.

      • Avatar
        evanball  March 29, 2016

        Thanks for the response. Do we know roughly when the Fall became an accepted explanation for the world being as it is? I guess great pain in pregnancy, more difficult farming, and slithering snakes can be traced to the Bible. But wars, tsunamis, and the flu seem now to be consequences of a fallen world.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 30, 2016

          I’m afraid I don’t know. I should know my Augustine better!

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 29, 2016

        When I first read the Bible (RSV) in 1980, I got stuck right off the bat in Genesis 2-3. I got to the end of chapter 3 and said, “Wait a minute! Where was the story of the Fall that religious Christians are always talking about?” I must have re-read the story of Adam and Eve fifteen times trying to get clear on exactly what the (English) text said and did not say. I think it’s a terrific exercise. It could be a good trick exam question: Explain and cite how and where Genesis tells of the Fall of humankind.” It’s a trick question, of course, because it tells no such story. Another value of the exercise is to see in glaring clarity the problem with literalists insisting that these chapters do tell the story of the Fall. The other exercise, then, is to read it (the English version at least since this is the basis of most American Christians’ belief; but then, you are a NT scholar, not a scholar of religion in America) as literally as one possibly can. That’s what I attempted to do each time I re-read the story. It can be terrifically difficult to put the Christian reading-into’s aside; we are saturated with them. What one finds, as I’m sure you know, is that the word “sin” is never used, that Adam and Eve never walk in the garden with God, that there is no close or intimate relationship between them and God, that they were not created immortal and then lost it, that there is no reason in the text to think God meant “spiritual death,” that the serpent told the truth and that God was either mistaken or lied, that eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not the direct cause of the expulsion, and that the direct cause was not something they did but what they (or, actually, “the man”) might have gone on to do (eat the fruit of the Tree of Life). Beyond Genesis, we find much more complex and close relationships God had with various humans than he ever had with Adam or Eve. We also find that nowhere, beyond Genesis, does the Tanakh refer back to the story of Adam and Eve as a foundational story to explain the origin of evil.

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