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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 is more than enough food in the world for everyone to be well-fed, so if people are starving, it is *our* fault, a lack of social and political will.  No need to doubt that God exists just because we’re too stupid, lazy, or self-centered to deal with any problems that come along.

I have several reactions to this view.  The first is that on one level I heartily agree.  So many of the unspeakable things that happen to people, destroying their lives, causing unspeakable pain and misery, and often leading to death, are caused by other people, either through intention or negligence.  How can we not all agree on that?

Moreover, I resonate with the premise underlying this view, that the reason for such terrible forms of suffering is that as humans we have free agency (to some extent).  We can choose to burn down our neighbor’s house, or kidnap his children, or go to war, or hoard all our money when others around us starve, or inflict a genocide, or whatever.   In the standard phrasing, we have “free will.”  And if we did not have free will, we would not be human.  We would be some kind of divinely constructed robots that did whatever we were programmed to do, and I think most of us would agree that in the end, that would not be good.   Of course, horrific suffering is not good either, but still, the argument is that it is not the fault of God or nature, but of our own decisiosn.

Having said that, I also have to say that …

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Teaching about How The Bible Explains Suffering
Why Would I Call Myself Both an Agnostic or an Atheist? A Blast From the Past



  1. Avatar
    justyn  July 5, 2017

    In my youth I also used to repeat the trite maxim “suffering exists due to free will, and without that we’d be robots”, then eventually I realised that this implies we’ll be robots in heaven.

    Of course many people imagine heaven, and our form in it, in a different way. But as you say there is no escaping that heaven “means that God *could* create an existence for living beings without suffering”.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 6, 2017

      And we *could* make this world a paradise–a true Kingdom, without earthly kings to push us around, without creating false divisions among ourselves, with everyone sharing the bounties of this remarkable planet, and life would always be imperfect, because life is supposed to be imperfect. Perfection is dull and empty. Life is multifarious and complex. But it could be so much better than it is now.

      And that’s on us. I don’t see much difference between theists and atheists on this point. The best people from both groups try to make it better. And the worst people from both groups end up making it worse. And most just focus on their own selfish pursuits, and let the rest go to hell.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  July 7, 2017

        . . . Matt 5:48 . . .

        • Avatar
          godspell  July 9, 2017

          Easy escape from that, since somebody we both know wrote a book about how often Jesus gets misquoted.

          It was a commonplace idea in early Christianity, even in its more conservative (less gnostic) forms, that the goal of being a Christian was to be like Christ. And in so doing, to become God, in a certain limited sense.

          When it became evident to all that nobody was going to be walking on water, no matter how much they believed, that seems to have fallen by the wayside. Or you might say, sank like a stone.

          Jesus believed perfect faith was possible, and he believed this earthly world could become a paradise. I don’t know if he believed life would then be utterly perfect, and that this perfection would be desirable. But I know I don’t.

    • Avatar
      catguy  July 7, 2017

      Just my opinion but it seems God wants those of His creation who are capable of loving Him to have free will. Whether it is angels or humans. And, of course, with both man and angels there is a risk in having free will. But I do not agree that we will be robots in heaven. Why would we? We will be our individual personality with desires and interests like we had in human life. Each of us will be as unique in heaven as on earth but it says in the NT (I forget which book) that we will have a new heart. We will have free will but will not have the desire or temptation to rebel against God. As for suffering, I agree that most suffering on this earth is due to humanity. Yes, earthquakes happen and is that because we have upset a balance of nature or not? I don’t have the answer. I do believe much of the global warming which is causing many of our meteorological catastrophes is caused by human activity.

      • Avatar
        godspell  July 9, 2017

        Suppose we’d been created to always do the right thing, and the world had been created in such a way as to never challenge our belief in the goodness of creation.

        What would we be then? Perpetual children. There is, in the story of Adam and Eve, a subtext–yes, they had everything, including perhaps immortality. But they had no purpose. There was nothing for them to do. The serpent brought them self-knowledge. Which leads to discontentment. Which leads to civilization. Which may, in time, lead to the end of humankind. But without it, what are we for? There’s nothing we can do in a state of nature that other animals can’t do better.

        Can we find a way to live in balance with the world around us, while still leading fully conscious lives? Can we be stewards of this planet, instead of merely parasites upon it? Can we erase the mark of Cain?

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  July 27, 2017

        What global warming? There hasn’t been any significant rise in temperature for 20 years. Last year, trumpeted as the hottest year ever, was up 4/100 of a degree Celsius, well within the margin of error. None of these climatologists is able to explain the medieval warming period (somewhere between 800 and 1200 CE) when the earth was far warmer than today, Greenland was actually green, and there were no factories belching smoke, automobiles exhaling gases, etc., etc. Of course, there is climate change–there is always climate change, but global warming cultists are only one subset of the massive, new religion: Enviromentalism, whose congregation totals rival Christianity’s 2 plus billion.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2017

          OK, we’re not gonna go here on the blog!

          • Avatar
            godspell  August 1, 2017

            I prophesied this would happen! “Woe unto ye bloggers who stray from your chosen and rightful pathways, for unto ye shall come all the confusions and controversies of the internet, and chaos shall reign supreme over the blog.”

            I can’t quite place the chapter and verse where I said this, but it’ll come to me.


  2. Avatar
    lawecon  July 5, 2017

    Once again, Bart’s critique of theism rests upon G-d being a certain sort of being. He is not only “powerful,” compassionate, and vastly superior to human beings. He is also without any limits in power, knowledge, presence, compassion, etc. That conception of G-d is captured very well in the “Ontological Proof” of G-d – that he MUST exist, as a matter of logic, since a G-d that doesn’t exist lacks one imaginable positive attribute.

    However, this conception of G-d arose relatively late, at least in the Jewish tradition. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and the Samuel narratives contain no such conception. And the portions of Genesis (which is believed to be the chronologically last of the Torah texts) that do contain something like this conception are also the least “historical” and didactic of these texts. They have also been nothing but trouble for Jews, due to their obviously false account of natural history. .

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 6, 2017

      Not entirely false–the authors of Genesis, in a remarkable burst of intuition, correctly deduced life began in the sea.

      That doesn’t make it science, but science as we know it didn’t exist. Insight did.

      • Avatar
        catguy  July 7, 2017

        Sea life began in the sea. It does not say mammalian or human life or bird life began in the sea.

        • Avatar
          godspell  July 8, 2017

          Genesis says the first animal life God created was the creatures who live in the sea–it also says the birds of the air were created on the fifth ‘day’, with land animals showing up on the sixth, so that’s off, but these weren’t zoologists. I call that a pretty good guess.

          And interestingly, Genesis does not give a separate day of creation to humankind. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, along with all other land animals.

          I mean, are you going to deduct points for people living thousands of years ago not stumbling across the theory of evolution? I call that petty. Though it should be said, the idea of evolution is a whole lot older than Darwin.

  3. Avatar
    godspell  July 5, 2017

    I can’t speak for anyone but myself, and the very last thing I want is a benevolent dictator, holding my hand from the cradle to the grave. I’m no libertarian, let alone anarchist, but I value freedom above all else. And there is no freedom in a perfectly ordered world, because that order would, of necessity, extend to the free exercise of choice. In such a world, there would be no such thing as conscience. I question whether there would be any such thing as a soul.

    You may be familiar with a quote regarding those who try to prove Jesus didn’t exist. I can’t remember this moment who said it, but the gist was that anyone who tries to distort history to prove Jesus didn’t exist only does so because his mind has been darkened by the wish Jesus had never existed.

    Would you rather this magnificent cosmos we inhabit perhaps the most extraordinary part of (it will be a long time before we can say for sure) had never existed?

    The least bit of evil negates all good? The least bit of ugliness negates all beauty?

    Okay, strawman argument–there’s a lot more than just the least bit.

    But with all the gifts we have received, can’t we be grateful, sometimes? To whatever force gave them, when it could have given us nothing? Is life that much of a burden?

    If so, then maybe it’s time whatever created us erased the slate and started over. Oh right, we’re well on the way to doing that ourselves.

    Our evil is the only evil we have control over. How much time shall we waste looking for something else to blame for our own problems?

    This is a philosophical argument, not a theological one. And I find myself very much out of sync with your philosphy. I would be so if I had never had any religious beliefs of any kind. I would not willingly live in the world you imagine.

    Alexander Skutsch, a very great ornithologist and field biologist, wrote a book about his philosophy, and in it revealed that he hated birds of prey–hawks, eagles, owls–thought they were ugly. Thought predators never had to exist, that the world (without any God, he wasn’t religious) could have evolved as some kind of collective of plants getting all their nutrition from sunshine.

    I could not then, and do not now, understand how anyone could want to exchange the world we have for a world of sentient algae, vegetating under the sun.

    But one man’s meat…..

  4. Avatar
    nbraith1975  July 5, 2017

    If you choose to associate suffering with evil then it necessarily begs the question – where did “evil’ (moral or natural) come from? Could evil have originated from a God who is defined in the Bible as “love?”

    Let’s not dilly-dally around here – Isaiah 45:7 clearly states that Yahweh did in fact “create” evil.

    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and CREATE EVIL: I the Lord do all these things. Note that the KJV Bible is one of the few translations that correctly translate the Hebrew word רָ֑ע as “evil.” The other translations translate the word as “disaster” or “calamity” in an obvious effort to cover up the fact that the God they serve called Yahweh is the one and only creator of evil.

    There is suffering in this world because God obviously wanted it. That’s not my opinion – it’s what the Hebrew scripture emphatically states. The problem I have is that the Christian faith promises eternal life after a physical death in a place were pain, sorrow or suffering do not exist.

    The problem with this utopian idea is that it can only exist if its inhabitants are somehow restrained from doing evil. In which case, all those who inhabit a place like that would necessarily have to be mind controlled. In which case, why would a loving God not choose to skip the horrific pain and suffering of humanity and simply set up his utopia with inhabitants that are created without the ability to do evil? Not to mention the fact that the Bible clearly states that all those who don’t accept God’s rules will be eternally punished with horrific torture.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 7, 2017

      My question is simpler.

      In a perfectly ordered world, would something like this be able to exist?


      God is Love–but Love of what? Love like in a greeting card?

      Love of everything. Love of all life. Love of what comes from life, which is (pardon the doggerel) strife. God could have made us all perfect little wind-up dolls. Instead he gave us a universe of choice, and chance–and the possibility of love. Because without all that, we’re not alive.

  5. Avatar
    GTGeek88  July 5, 2017

    Suffering as learning? When we touch something hot as a child, we quickly learn to be cautious in regards to heat. We learn the pain it causes and, hopefully, project this to others and help them be cautious, too. Not so much in the initial learning, which we all go through at some point, but in the caution needed when someone may not be aware that something is hot, like a hot stove that’s not visibly hot, but that could still burn someone.

    What does one learn by getting childhood cancer and dying? I’m not sure (though I have some theories). The parents go through a painful learning process, I’m know, but I’m just thinking here about learning imparted to the sufferer. Do we have to have all the answers? Can we be more stoic, more patient, and more accepting (when, finally, there is nothing we can do) instead of just having to have all the answers and having to make pronouncements about suffering proving or disproving the existence of a loving God? That stoicism, patience, and acceptance is, I believe, “trust in God.” A person can say “I don’t understand it, I’m not capable of understanding everything, and I don’t even like it, but I trust God will work it out.” That is not an endorsement of attitudes like those who would reject medical treatment and put it on God. It’s just an acknowledgement that when our agency ends, we can know that God’s begins and trust in that agency.

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 5, 2017

    I agree with you, of course, that we should do all we can to alleviate suffering and aid those in need. But there’s something you didn’t point out (unless I somehow missed it).

    Even if *all* types of suffering were caused (as we know they aren’t) by *humans* in one part of the world hogging all the resources, that wouldn’t adequately explain the “problem of suffering”! It would still be a situation in which the *victims* were *innocent*.

  7. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  July 5, 2017

    Bart, I hope you had a wonderful 4th.

  8. Lev
    Lev  July 5, 2017

    I like how you’ve clearly defined moral and natural evil, Bart.

    This seems to be what Jesus was doing in Luke 13:1-5 – do you think this shows how the historical Jesus (or his followers) understood why innocent people suffer?

    Jesus first gives the example of Pontus Pilate slaughtering Galileans whilst they were sacrificing in the temple – moral evil. He then cites the tragedy of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam which killed 18 – a natural evil (assuming, of course, it was an unintended collapse).

    What seems most relevant is that Jesus goes on to say those who died in both events were not worse sinners or offenders than anyone else – suggesting they (the innocent) do not deserve to suffer this way.

    He then gets all apocalyptic and claims everyone will perish unless they ‘repent’. Although it’s only attested to in Luke, the historical points correlate: Pilate’s typically Roman brutality was well known, as was his loathing of Herod who had jurisdiction of Galilee. I understand the ruins of the tower of Siloam were recently discovered underneath the ruins of a rebuilt tower. It seems the source of this story was familiar with Jerusalem and the story of the collapsed tower.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2017

      I”ve never been quite sure whether Jesus said this or not.

      • Avatar
        godspell  July 7, 2017

        Somebody who believed in him believed he said it.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2017

          Yup, that happens a lot.

          • Avatar
            godspell  July 8, 2017

            It does with pretty nearly all famous people. There’s a long long list of quotes misattributed to much more contemporary figures.

            When Christian writers put such broad-minded words in his mouth, that means they had a vision of him, highly idealized of course, that corresponded with those words. You try to live up to ideals–as Americans try to live up to the ideals of Lincoln, who we have idealized (and sometimes demonized, leaving historians to find the middle ground). And most of the time, we fail.

            But without goals to strive for, what are we?

    • Avatar
      Gabe_Grinstead  July 19, 2017

      I am not sure where I read this from, but that Luke 13:1-5 were two instances of small Jewish revolts/rebellions. I recall reading that some were digging (conjecture) under the tower, which caused it to collapse and kill either them, or other bystanders. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea, but it would make sense. Presuming that it were true, I would then suggest that when Jesus said “Repent or Perish” meant this: Change your rebellious ways against the Romans, or perish. Perish they did, when Rome sacked Jerusalem.

      My opinion, of course, but it seems to me that the both the Old Testament and New Testament when talking about life and death have taken an otherworldly interpretation that wasn’t intended by the author. I believe this is most especially true in the Old Testament, but I have long suspected that it is the case for most of New Testament as well. Luke 13:1-5 is the main reason for me starting to question these things.

  9. talmoore
    talmoore  July 5, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, again, I feel compelled to bring up the Fundamental Attribution Error, because it seems that until people are able to fully understand and appreciate this innate bias in all human beings they will continued to be bedeviled by the existence of suffering.

    A quick recap: The Fundamental Attribution Error says that people have a tendency to ascribe the failure of others on the innate, personal peccadilloes of those people (e.g. laziness, ignorance, immorality and “sin”, etc.) while attributing their own failures to the outside world being against them — that is, the world is “unfair” or “cruel” or “uncaring” or, possibly even, controlled by evil powers like the Devil. Conversely, when other people succeed, it’s because of outside influence, such as: they got lucky, or they had an unfair advantage, or some other outside entity — whether god or devil — was helping them. Furthermore, when I succeed, it’s because of my own positive qualities (e.g. I’m smart; I’m hardworking; I’m blessed; I’m talented; I’m good, etc.)

    In other words:
    — I fail because of external factors, but I succeed because of internal factors, while…
    — Other people fail because of internal factors, but they succeed because of external factors

    Like I said in a previous comment, conservatives tend to hold more to the FAE bias than non-conservatives, so it’s natural for them to think and feel that when other people are suffering it’s because those other people somehow deserve it, whether it’s from an innate fault they have choses (e.g sin) or from an innate flaw they are born with (e.g. original sin). In the conservative mind, a person is primarily responsible for his or her own suffering. However, the FAE bias in the mind of a conservative extends to the other factors as well. The conservative feels that if they are suffering it’s because something outside them is trying to make them suffer — whether that outside factor is other “bad” or “sinful” people and influences (e.g. Rock and Roll music, Hollywood movies, drugs, etc.), or Satan, or demons, or whatever. The point is it’s not from a failure within them, but from an evil from without. Now, of course, this isn’t 100% universal. There are, for example, plenty of conservative people who will tell you that they suffer because they were born with “original sin” or some other such internal flaw. But if you really sit these people down and talk to them about the cause of suffering in the world, invariably, they will talk more about how everything is wrong with the rest of the world and other people, and their own “original sin” will quickly take a backseat.

    The FAE bias in the conservative mindset also extends to perceived successes and happiness. When they are happy and successful, conservatives tend to credit it as their own personal achievement. I worked hard for it. I am a good person; therefore, I deserve it. Very rarely will you find a conservative who will credit social, economic or cultural advantage, not to mention luck, for their successes. They invariably talk about deserving their success and happiness because of the “right choices” they have made, or the “hard work” they have put into it, or their “faith in God,” or any other number of personal achievements they feel they have made. By implication, therefore, in the conservative mind, anyone who has failed to achieve equal success or happiness has failed to “work hard” or make the “right choices” or had the requisite “faith in God”.

    This is why it’s so hard to discuss the origin and nature of suffering with many conservative people, because the FAE bias is ingrained into their thinking. It’s hard for them to completely remove themselves, personally from the debate, to look at suffering objectively, because they view everything from this central conceit.

    • Avatar
      Tony  July 6, 2017

      In line with your observation, it is amusing to observe the loathing of many conservatives with all things Government. Particularly, their refusal to recognize tax payer provided government services, systems, infrastructure and other supports as enabling and contributing to their success.

  10. Avatar
    mannix  July 5, 2017

    The term “natural evil” sounds somewhat oxymoronic to me. A few years ago tourists visiting a fenced off nature refuge were watching a young fawn feeding. Suddenly a cougar or some other predator pounced on its prey. The tourists reacted in alarm, throwing rocks at the feline and actually drove it away, saving the deer. The people were then admonished, telling them they should not have interfered in a natural process. More recently, a hiker noted what appeared to be an abandoned bear cub. He picked it up (not wanting it to starve) and brought it to the Ranger station for further disposition. His “reward” was to be chewed out by the ranger, telling him he had in effect “killed” the cub since the mother (who was likely nearby) would no longer care for it. The hiker was actually charged with a misdemeanor!

    The point is, sometimes the “solution ” to a “natural evil” may be worse than the “evil” itself. Even in the first example, the cougar may have been hunting for food for her own cubs, who could eventually starve if mom was consistently deprived of prey.

    “Mother Nature”, through natural selection, can be seen by some as cruel, but “evil”…I dunno. Maybe, if there is a God, He/She/It should have created a different kind of matter (different fermions, bosons, fields, strings, whatever), that would have evolved a different kind of Nature. Ever wonder what that would be like? Certainly not the universe we live in now.

  11. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  July 5, 2017

    I have a working hypothesis in favor for there being a God: God is loving and omnipotent. He is not jealous nor does he show favoritism. He does not require worship nor does he require belief; those are petty, man-made constructs. When there’s two survivors out of a hundred from a plane crash, that’s his way of not showing favoritism and a lesson in showing us that we shouldn’t show favoritism either but still should be thankful in all things. After all, he gave us life and that’s enough in itself.

    He is so loving and selfless that his ultimate goal is for us to literally become like him–God. That requires time and time requires patience, also one of his attributes. Suffering is the exact opposite of his nature, so we must learn to conquer it. We do that by loving one another and gaining the knowledge needed to rid ourselves of suffering, whether suffering comes through man or nature. Conquering suffering means we’ve gained everything we need to expel all what God is not: hate, envy, pain, strife, greed, ignorance, etc… so that by the end, we are Godlike: all-powerful and loving.

    I’m sure there’s holes in that, but that’s the best I’ve come up with so far in favor for a God.

    • Avatar
      RVBlake  July 6, 2017

      That is an eloquent depiction of a benevolent God. In mentioning “worship,” I’ve always been puzzled by God’s insistence on being worshiped. I cannot imagine an omnipotent being with the human failing of egotism. And of the two commandments expressed by Jesus, why is the demand to love God placed before the requirement to love each other? Even the first few of the Ten Commandments address the adoration that God is due.

    • tompicard
      tompicard  July 6, 2017

      i can’t think of any holes in that theory – that God wants us to be like Him.
      I have heard someone say God wants us to be ‘better’ than God.

  12. tompicard
    tompicard  July 5, 2017

    An alternate way of saying “suffering is our fault” is, at least for a believer in God, to say “suffering is the result of ‘sin’ “; Not in the sense that someone or some people suffer heavenly wrath as punishment for their sinful/failure in following one particular of God’s capricious dictates. Rather that there is an intrinsic correlation of sin and suffering. Obviously in the case of murder but also indirectly in the case of our society’s failure to follow the second great commandment ‘to love our neighbor as ourselves’. Doesn’t that ‘sin’ lead to the the starvation of the child each 7 seconds as you have noted? And these ’sins’ bring about suffering to God Himself commensurate to the suffering of His children.
    Anyway I, personally, don’t have a reason to doubt the existence of a loving God, while I am living in a world that doesn’t even marginally follow either the two commandments Jesus required in Matt 22:37.

    I know there is also suffering that doesn’t seem to have any correlation to moral failures (birth defects, earthquakes, and so on), and I can’t offer any understanding of the whys of these. But I will comment that throughout history and even today, how much of our human effort and money and resources have been invested in wars and killings, exactly contrary to the teachings of all religions. How much of those kinds of suffering would there really be if instead the two commandments were taken seriously and the resources of war and crime redirected? I guess, not much. . .

  13. Avatar
    hasankhan  July 5, 2017

    God designed a place that would have suffering and a place that would have no suffering i.e Earth and paradise.

    God appointed varying degrees of suffering to different people i.e. predestination. Things that we do not control basically are predestined.

    God decided that are place in hereafter would depend on how we ‘respond’ to the suffering or pleasure.

    An ungrateful person with lots of pleasures of life ends up in hell, a grateful person born with disability goes to heaven.

    Qur’an (2:155) And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,

    Why is there a problem in God designing a world with tectonic plates that can cause earth quakes and cause people to die?

    If this life is not all there is, why is suffering in this life is a problem when it actually helps test people.

    Qur’an (67:2) [He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving –

    • antoinelamond
      antoinelamond  July 8, 2017

      Why would an all powerful God test me with loss when he knows the out come? That makes the test useless. And saying it is for my benefit is even worse because I may fail the test. Ultimately Job failed the test because ‘god’ came down and chastised Job for questioning him. This god allowed satan to test Job as if god and satan were friends?

  14. Avatar
    Alfred  July 5, 2017

    Bart I’m intrigued by the ‘closed system’ of your analysis of suffering, in which only the human species features. Surely the suffering of non-humans deserves consideration?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2017

      I don’t have a closed system at all! I’m just talking about part of the problem, the one that has historically caused most anxiety for most people.

      • Avatar
        godspell  July 7, 2017

        If we questioned the suffering of animals–whether a just God would allow it–we’d have to stop exploiting them for work and meat.

        I’m not a PETA person, can’t stand them, but that’s what it comes down to.

        We conflate ‘evil’ with ‘whatever makes me unhappy.’

        “I am come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

        Well, don’t we? Collectively?

        The individual wants freedom–which you can’t have in a perfectly ordered world.

        The species wants to be fruitful and multiply–which means somebody has to suffer, somebody has to die.

        I don’t see how this equation can work out. Granting the premise that God created the laws of the universe, if God negated those rules, wouldn’t that destroy the universe?

  15. Avatar
    doug  July 5, 2017

    It would seem that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving perfect God (if it exists) would have created perfect people. Instead, he knowingly created imperfect people. And so all of us, no matter how hard we try to be good, inevitably hurt ourselves and others at least occasionally. Sometimes we even do harm when we’re trying to do good. We don’t have perfect knowledge or perfect wisdom, and we’re certainly not perfect. And, as Bart has pointed out, there is a lot of natural evil in God’s “creation”. But as Bart also pointed out, there is a lot we can do to make things better.

  16. Avatar
    Pegill7  July 5, 2017


    One kind of evil that you do not mention is that associated with plagues, epidemic, and mass starvation. In the Old Testament we find these explained by the wrath of Yahweh directed against foreigners (Egyptians) or sometime the Hebrews themselves for being wicked. The great plague during the reign of Justinian, the Black Death during the 14th and 15th centuries, or the Great Influenza of the twentieth century–all of these and other afflictions killed in the tens of millions by means of what? A flea, a mosquito, some microscopic “bug”, etc? How easy would it have been for an all-powerful God to abstain from creating these conveyors of enormous suffering for millions. We’ve learned how to contain small pox, the polio virus, malaria.,etc.. Were any of these afflictions brought under control by a priest, a rabbi, or an ayatollah? I think not .Far more people recognize the name of St. Mother Teresa.than that of Norman Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution.” But who did more to alleviate human suffering? Just a thought..

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2017

      Sorry, I thought I *had* discussed those kinds of suffering. My view is that the Old Testament has *various* ways of explaining them, depending on which author you’re reading.

    • Avatar
      Robby  July 7, 2017

      I once had a pastor try to explain that thorns were not part of the original creation but we’re a result of the “fall.” I imagine that he would explain mosquitos and viruses, etc.as a result as well.

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    Pattycake1974  July 5, 2017

    I’m assuming you’ve heard the latest with Hobby Lobby. Here’s a link for anyone interested: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/532743/

    Did you say that a book about their findings is coming out this fall?

  18. Robert
    Robert  July 5, 2017

    Again, the theodicy problem of classical and medieval philosophy and theology has, I suspect, very little to do with the more profound truths of Jesus’ teaching and experience. Jesus proposed no solution to the classical philosophical problem of evil, including the so-called problem of natural evil. In Jesus’ words, God causes the rain to fall on the virtuous and evil alike. Jesus foresaken and despairing on the cross is not propounding upon some philosophical problem of evil. He is simply bearing witness to the truth as he saw it. I think the ‘solution’ to the classical philosophical problem of is simply to realize that the problem lies more with our assumptions and presumptions. We may think we can imagine a more perfect world, a more omnipotent, more benevolent, more just God, but that is already to fundamentally avoid what should be our primary responsibility to respond creatively to all of various evils we encounter to the best of our abilities, not to explain them away or indict or deny the existence of a poorly and ill onceived deity. If evil could be definitively ‘explained’, it would not be evil. Likewise, if God could be explained or defined, such would not be God.

  19. antoinelamond
    antoinelamond  July 5, 2017

    A lot of suffering is our fault, but as you talk about in a lot of your work there is suffering that an omnibenevolent deity would have put to rest a long time ago, or never even allowed to exist to begin with. A rapper named Greydon Square said himself, “if God is omnibenevolent how can evil exist?”

    I have begun to lean towards Marcion’s view in regards to this (or something similar). Suffering could be caused by the evil god of the Tanakh until the true God came into being. Yet I do not know if that is true or could even be true.

    My mother just asked me why her friend’s son is suffering and why God would allow it. I said “I have no idea, I do not know”. That is the first time I used that as an answer for suffering. Then she said, “is God getting them ready to be in a better place, should I tell my friend that?” I told her. “Don’t offer her that empty meaningless platitude. Comfort your friend, tell her you grieve with her and you are a shoulder she can lean on. Just be there for her.” I have never answered anything about suffering like this, but thanks to you Dr. Ehrman I indeed did answer this way and felt much better than all the answers I have EVER given.

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    NancyGKnapp  July 5, 2017

    I like that you separate the suffering and disaster itself from our response to it. The responsible thing for humans to do is to respond to the needs around us so your quote, Dr. Ehrman, is right on. “But I *do* agree that for many, many, many kinds of suffering in the world, there are things we can do about it. This “solution” to suffering may not provide an adequate explanation for suffering. But it can suggest an appropriate response to it.” Many, many organizations are doing that – UNICEF, Heifer Project, Habitat for Humanity, Bread for the World, Disaster Assistance, Doctors without Borders, etc. This is consistent with Jesus’ law of love and the idea in the Genesis story that God gave man dominion which led to idea of stewardship of the planet.
    The reason for natural disasters is another story. Paul Davies in his book “God and the new Physics,” says “To the physicist, violent phenomena are simply one particular expression of natural laws that are morally neutral. Good and evil apply only to the mind, not matter.” (p. 229) Science has gotten us to the creative moment of the Big Bang but has not concluded whether it self-started or had some sort of natural or supernatural force behind it. We, whether theologian or scientist, all stand in awe of the intricacies of the universe. I think I’ll take a little break from theology and turn to cosmology for awhile.

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