Teaching about How The Bible Explains Suffering

I’m not sure exactly when the suffering of others came to pose a problem for my own faith; but I do remember clearly when the issues first crystalized for me.  I started my teaching career at Rutgers University while I was a PhD student working on my dissertation in 1984.   It was a fantastic job for me (teaching at a very good research university, without yet even having my degree), but it was not tenure-track.  I was a poorly-paid adjunct ...

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Is Suffering Our Fault?

Some people have responded to my comments on suffering with the interesting observation that most suffering, in their view, is caused by humans against humans, so that there is no reason to “blame God” for it.   That is obviously true of some of the most horrific things that happen in our world:  murder, genocide, torture, war, refugee crises, and on and on and on.   And one could argue that it is true of even “natural” disasters, such as starvation: there ...

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Am I an Agnostic or an Atheist? A Blast From the Past

I have been talking about how the problem of suffering led me to become an agnostic, and some people have asked why I’m not an atheist.  My short answer is: I am!  But how can I be both?  That was an issue I addressed in the very early days of the blog, and I thought it might be useful to repost that response here.  I pretty much agree with everything in it, now five years later, with the exception that ...

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Why Was Marcion Declared a Heretic?

              The question I will be dealing with this week relates to the issue of heresy and orthodoxy in early Christianity.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!

 

QUESTION:

As I am reading about Marcion being declared a heretic I wonder, who had the authority to do this?

 

RESPONSE:

It’s a very good question, and more significant than, on the surface, one might think.  First some background.

Marcion was a second-century philosopher/theologian/teacher who eventually came to ...

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Do I Need to Suffer Myself to Question Whether God Exists?

When I talk about how the problem of suffering has made me question the existence of a loving God in control of the world, I sometimes get asked “What *happened* to you?”  The assumption seems to be that the only reason a person would question the existence of God is if something terrible had occurred that didn’t make sense in light of their beliefs.

I’ve always thought this was a very curious way to think about it, as if the only ...

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70

Why Not Believe in a Different Kind of God?

I have been talking about why suffering is a “problem” in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and here I would like to reflect a bit on a point that some commenters have made, that it is a problem if and only if one has a certain conception of God as a being who is all-powerful, loving, and active in the world.  Someone who has a different understanding of the divine being – or divine beings – almost certainly won’t have ...

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The Classic “Problem” of Suffering

I have indicated a bit in previous posts on why the Problem of Suffering is a “problem.”  Here I want to explain just a bit further, before going on, in later posts, with the question about how and why it became a problem for me personally, in my movement away from Christianity to agnosticism.   Here is what I say about “the problem” as it is classically understood, by philosophers who wrestle with the issue of “theodicy,” in my book God’s ...

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Two Unsatisfactory Solutions to the Problem of Suffering

In this thread I have started to grapple with the question of how there can be a good, loving, and powerful God in charge of the world in the face of the massive suffering experienced by the human race – not just in general terms (“there sure is a lot of suffering out there!”) but in very specific concrete terms, as what individuals experience.   What we experience.  What you have experienced.  How does one make sense of personal suffering (especially ...

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The Kind of Suffering that is a Problem

I’m not completely sure when I first started realizing that the enormous amount of suffering in the world, so much of it completely gratuitous, is a problem for anyone who believes that there is a loving and powerful God who is in control of what happens.   Before reflecting on the evolution of my own thinking on the problem from years ago, let me stress a couple of points.

First I am talking about enormous suffering.   I am not talking about the ...

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Why I Was Afraid to Become an Agnostic

I started feeling the tug toward agnosticism sometime during my PhD program.  I remember clearly a particular moment, and it was, somewhat ironically, while I was serving as the pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church.

Even though I was incredibly busy at the time (I was taking a full load of graduate seminars, preparing to take my PhD exams, serving as a Teaching Assistant for a class taught by Bruce Metzger, AND serving as the pastor of the church) I enjoyed ...

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