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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
    Michael Toon  July 6, 2017

    Do you think we actually have freewill? Or do you think the compatibilists get it right about freewill/determinism?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2017

      I think we have some kind of very limited free will, if by that we mean that we can motivate our own actions to some extent.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 7, 2017

      “Of course we have free will, because we have no choice but to have it.” — Christopher Hitchens

  2. Avatar
    Hume  July 6, 2017

    Story Alert! – In 2003 I took a World Religions class at an unmentioned Canadian University. My professor said you can submit a paper on any topic, so I researched topics. I found an internet page called ‘Inconsistencies and Contradictions in the Bible’. My Catholic faith was absolutely shaken, how could no teacher or priest mention this info? I was betrayed, but I was more intrigued! The criticism of my faith was hidden from me, why? Some truth was hidden, a truth that made the whole faith look very human. Angels from Zoroastrianism, two humans producing billions, earth created in 6 thousand years, miracles, all agricultural analogies, homo sapiens 200 000 years old, humans 2 million years old, the true faith given in an area the size of my backyard to an illiterate people who didn’t know where the sun went at night, immorality of the highest order in the Bible, injunction for slavery, the evolution of Satan, no mention of electricity or gravity or the quantum world, etc.. I told my professor I would write on this topic, what a find! I could tell the world all about this! I was very strongly encouraged not to write it. My professor said all religions have their inconsistencies and contradictions, so I would be proving nothing. I thought what a strange statement from a believer. Now that I have the gift of hindsight, what she really meant was I really do not want to read a full paper poking holes in Christianity. I’m always left with the question if it’s that good, can’t it stand up to critique on its own merit?

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 7, 2017

      I think the Reformation was a pretty strong critique, and Catholicism is still there.

      She couldn’t stand the critique. Her, personally.

      I’ve lost count of all the atheists/agnostics I’ve encountered online who are a thousand times touchier when you touch on their contradictions.

      And I have, believe it or not, met theists who are quite happy to engage on this front.

      Don’t confuse personality with theology/ideology The one either enriches or corrupts the other. Or both.

  3. Avatar
    Tony  July 6, 2017

    The notion of “free will” is mostly a fallacy. Our thoughts and actions are predominantly determined by our biology and environment. Early childhood environment is an obvious and important component, and a critical one in the formation of religious beliefs.

    Sometimes I hear the Christian argument that God gave Adam and Eve free will, which led to their disobedience and the Fall. God, being omniscient and omnipotent, knew exactly what would happen with His free will gift. His response was to punish the unhappy first couple and the rest of us. Like giving a baby a sharp object and next punishing the baby for getting hurt. Not much love there.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 7, 2017

      Um–you don’t believe that happened, so……? 🙂

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 6, 2017

    This is yet another of many good posts in this series on what you believe and why. I wish more would do such a critical examination of crucial questions. In my neck of the woods, this is seldom done. It is, however, a good exercise for people to try to summarize their views about religion. I try to update my views each year and it is quite helpful to me to do so.

  5. Avatar
    Jana  July 6, 2017

    Suffering … continuing with my earlier posting (a Different God), I’m reading next Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. I’m wondering if suffering begins at the genetic level? It’s a given as the Buddha taught and yes humans and also some within the natural world possess free agency. Obviously I don’t subscribe to the “Creator God” theology. I whole heartedly and I do mean WHOLE heartedly agree and participate in your conclusion: “*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. If we can bring help to those in need, we should do so. We should devote our social, political, and personal energies to doing so. If we have the free will necessary to better our own lives, we should use it to better the lives of others, especially those who are experiencing such horrible suffering.” (And it is THIS selfless compassion which makes “us” Divine! .. by compassion and action/ not by a God’s designation 🙂

    Thank you Dr. Ehrman.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 10, 2017

      About The Selfish Gene:

      1)Dawkins borrowed the basic idea from a much less well known evolutionary theorist, George C. Williams. All he did was popularize somebody else’s work, and his own conclusions are increasingly questioned by the mainstream of his field. He’s a great self-publicist, but he’s not really an important scientist, and he’s basically stopped writing about science.

      2)Dawkins popularization has inspired many people you might not like very much.


      He says he was misunderstood.

      Well, that’s what they all say, right?


  6. Avatar
    godspell  July 6, 2017

    You know, I thought about it, and no, ‘Acts of God’ are not out fault–but global warming is. All the earthquakes in in states like Kansas, with a lot of fracking, probably are. The Dust Bowl was our fault.

    The blight that killed and exiled so many of m Irish ancestors was due to the peasantry being forced to live on a very prolific strain of potato that was not disease resistant, so that they could sustain themselves on tiny plots of land, while the landlords shipped cash crops abroad–even while millions were starving. That wasn’t intentional genocide, but all the true genocides that have occurred–our fault.

    War is always our fault. The rapid spread of virulent diseases into places where there is no natural resistance to them–our fault. Pollution is our fault. The massive proliferation of deadly weapons–can’t say Jesus didn’t warn us.

    Most birth defects are caused by environmental problems that we caused–not all, to be sure, but in a state of nature, evolution tends to weed out such problems (meaning that civilization is at fault). However, without some genetic drift, we couldn’t evolve. Why do we only consider this a problem for a loving God when we look at the human world?

    You say you accept the necessity of death. But you don’t seem to have thought through what this perfect world you say God could have made (if God existed, and was loving) would entail. Or what we’d be like if everything was just handed to us. Actually, we have some pretty good present-day examples of what people are like when everything is handed to them.

    We used to just be animals. Very intelligent animals, but still animals. We didn’t have any gods. And we didn’t have any civilization. And we didn’t question our short hard existences. We were too busy surviving, and taking what pleasures we could in it.

    It seems pretty clear we only started asking serious questions around the same time we started being religious.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  July 8, 2017

      “we only started asking serious questions around the same time we started being religious.”
      That’s actually a pretty perceptive comment. By the time we developed an advanced language center, we could literally ask questions and tell stories. With a prefrontal cortex that never rests, we had to find answers. When the questions turned to “Why are we born only to die?” and “what happens to us when we die?” we found answers. They might not have been correct answers, but the brain doesn’t actually care about truth, it only cares about what’s useful. And a wrong answer is more useful than no answer. At least it is to a prefrontal cortex that can’t rest.

      • Avatar
        godspell  July 8, 2017

        I wouldn’t say the brain doesn’t care about truth, but it doesn’t like not having an answer. We all jump to conclusions, because uncertainty is troubling for all of us. We want an answer, whether we have the means to find it or not.

        If an answer turns out to have problems later on, it can be retooled, or abandoned entirely. And that choice–to adapt or reject–evolutionary or revolutionary–defines many of us.

        I don’t think the answers our ancestors found were wrong. They were merely incomplete, and too narrow, from lack of sufficient information, and unwillingness to look at the whole picture.

        And all the answers we have now still are. Theist and Atheist. Still incomplete. Still refusing to see the whole picture.

  7. cheito
    cheito  July 6, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    And so we are back to the question: why then is there suffering (through natural evil)? The explanation about tectonic plates redirects the issue, it doesn’t answer it (or even address it).

    My Comment:

    I think that it is “natural evil, when done with evil intentions by some evil authority, (not of human origin) who has the knowledge and ability to control the forces of nature.

    I also think that a higher benevolent authority, i.e., God, or one of His angels commanded by Him, who also has the knowledge and ability to control the natural forces, may sometimes allow ”natural evil”, but not for the purpose of evil, as intended by the one evil authority conceiving the “natural evil” and doing it, but allows it for a purpose of good.

    Following is an example of a deed committed with evil intentions by humans against another human, that God used for the good of many.

    Genesis 50:20

    20-“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

    According to Genesis 50:20, Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, was allowed by God, to save the life of many. In God’s Foreknowledge, He allowed and used the evil deed committed by Joseph’s brothers to save many lives later on.

    To us, and most likely to Joseph, this wasn’t fair. However, it’s obvious that Joseph understood later on, when he saw, that the result of him being sold into slavery was the deliverance from starvation of an entire nation. (i.e., Egypt, and also the survival of his own father, brother’s and relatives.)

    Another Example of “natural evil” is the death of David’s son with Bathsheba. David’s son did not choose to die as an infant. It was God’s decision to take David’s son’s life. In his wisdom and foreknowledge, God decided that the child should die physically. The death of David’s son with Bathsheba doesn’t make sense from a humanistic perspective, but to God, who has the power over death and life, the decision to end the child’s life on earth made sense for reasons that we don’t specifically know why.

    For all we know, David and Bathsheba’s child grew up in a much better place, and if you could ask David’s son with Bathsheba, what he thought about God’s decision, he’d probably say that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

    NOTE: “natural evil can also be a judgment directly from God, or allowed by God, through some other principality, not of human origin. (e.g., God allows the evil one to destroy the bodies of certain individuals who have gone to far in their depravity.

  8. Avatar
    bcdwa288  July 6, 2017

    There is an aspect of human suffering that I have long wondered about. I seems to me that evolutionary development demands death. Each generation must die and let the next, stronger, one live. Each and every individual life on Earth is temporary. That includes every live thing of whatever type one can imagine. Each individual life on earth is subjected to a very complex set of death causing stresses. Each life form has evolved, has built up strengths, to hold off or delay some but not all of those stresses for some (short) period of time. Life has evolved to survive.
    Suffering or pain is an indication that some stress, some trauma or disease, usually but not always physical, is occurring and needs to be remedied.
    We individual humans have inherited a set of strengths and weaknesses from our ancestry through the evolutionary process. We are each subjected to a set if stresses. Through a complex statistical probability environment sooner or later a stress or combination of stresses overcomes our strengths or defenses and we suffer and we die.
    It is interesting to try to imagine what the situation on Earth would be if there was no suffering or death.
    That, over simplified and poorly stated, is the way it is and if one believes that God is in control then one must believe that is the way He wants it.

  9. Avatar
    Jason  July 6, 2017

    A quick search on “dinesh d’souza biblical innerrancy” doesn’t turn a lot up-did you get some sense of his take on things like creationism in light of his arguments about tectonic plates giving rise to terrestrial life?

  10. Avatar
    JamesSnappJr  July 7, 2017

    I’m probably not going to resolve the Problem of Evil in this comments-box. Nevertheless: regarding your response to D’Souza’s argument about the long-term advantages of tectonic activity outweighing the short-term disadvantages (suffering initiated by earthquakes in populated areas), I’m not sure that it is an effective response to say, “But heaven is perfect.” If a weight-lifter never has weights pushing against him, how will he grow? Granting that one can say, “Someday the weight-lifter will reach his full potential, and then he will have no use for weights,” but until that stage arrives, doesn’t the argument hold that there is a net gain involved in some causes of suffering?

    Someone might say, “The Bible says that human beings were already at our full potential in the Garden of Eden” — but I do not entirely grant that. There seems to be a desire on God’s part to have a relationship with people not just as Creator, but as Redeemer; not just as the automobile-maker, but as the person who restores wrecked cars. Suffering is somewhere in that equation, as a stepping-stone.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2017

      That wasn’t actually my response int he debate, if I remember correctly. My response was instead that the laws of physics and the natural universe were, in his view, created by God, not constraints under which God himself was required to operate.

      • Avatar
        godspell  July 7, 2017

        That’s a fascinating idea.

        Query–how strong are you in the physics department?

        Stronger than me, I bet. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2017

          Not strong. But strong enough to know that if God is constricted by the laws of physics then he is not sovereign over them, but they are sovereign over him.

          • Avatar
            godspell  July 8, 2017

            It’s been theorized this might not be the only universe (by people who do know physics).

            If God created this universe according to one set of rules, and then negated those rules, who’s to say the universe wouldn’t collapse? As indeed physics tells us it might someday.

            Einstein’s beliefs on God were often misinterpreted. He said he didn’t believe in a personal deity, who cares for the individual. But he still felt awed reverence for the grandeur of the universe.

            “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

            So I’m not sure if that means he’d agree with you or not. Newton, of course, would ardently disagree. Hawking has gotten a bit wacky, but you can hardly blame the man.

            Ever read Narcissus and Goldmund? That’s about two lifelong friends who you might say worship different visions of the Godhead. Male and Female. The female God is the one you’d be afraid of. But She does love us. In Her own way.

            “Without a Mother, how will you live? Without a Mother, how will you die?”

            Spoiler alert. 😉

          • Avatar
            Ana  July 27, 2017

            I respectfully disagree. If I gave my word to someone, I am the master of the word. I choose to keep my word because of my integrity, not because word got power over me. Same with laws. They are consistent because God wants us to understand His creation not to confuse us. Because He is Integrity.

    • Avatar
      Gabe_Grinstead  July 19, 2017

      Regarding your redeemer thought – Isn’t that somewhat of an empty victory? If I create a defective something, so that I can rescue/fix it… Do you see where I am going with this? You create the problem, then offer the solution. Think Stockholm Syndrome…

  11. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  July 7, 2017

    My addition to the “again” list in the comments: the whywontgodhealamputees.com website is still active. Enjoy.

  12. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 7, 2017

    Whew. After skimming through this discussion, I think it’s much simpler to quit arguing over whether the existence of suffering is compatible with the existence of “God,” and acknowledge that there was no good reason to assume the existence of “God” in the first place!

    As I see it, there are three *main* possible explanations for the existence of the Cosmos:

    1. An “Uncaused Cause.”

    2. A literally infinite chain of “Causes” and “Effects.”

    3. The possibility that there are levels of reality on which our concepts of “Cause” and “Effect” – perceived by human minds – are completely irrelevant.

    So even if – to come up with *something* – we choose to focus on the “Uncaused Cause,” we have to understand it as merely a working hypothesis. And there are many things the “Uncaused Cause” might have been. For someone who assumes a “Creator,” there are still more possibilities: whether the creation was *intentional*; if so, what its *motive* was; whether the “Creator” still exists; whether he/she/it has *changed* significantly, etc.

  13. cheito
    cheito  July 7, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    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?

    My Comment:

    I agree, that people have the power to commit atrocious cruelties, and many do.

    In our society there are consequences for violating the moral law. If one commits murder and is caught, and a jury returns a guilty verdict, a judge will then sentence the person who committed the murder, according to the law of the land.

    The repercussions of murder affect mostly the relatives and friends of the one murdered, and of the murderer.

    The victim’s family members will suffer because of the loss of a loved one. The one murdered, may also have a relative, or a friend, who will seek revenge, and injure or kill, an innocent relative or friend of the murderer.


    My point is that the murderous deed of one person, will affect, far into the future, a host of other people who had nothing to do with the evil committed by the murderer.

    My other point is: That God is left to deal with, and arrive at a verdict, according to all the facts, concerning the heinous crimes committed by individuals. These facts are based on God’s wisdom and foreknowledge of the intentions of the hearts, and the thoughts in the minds of all individuals involved.

    God’s adjudication is based on His foreknowledge of ALL the facts, which only He has.

    Unlike human judges, God is able to know the INTENTIONS of everyone’s heart, and the THOUGHTS in everyone’s mind, whether in the present or in the future.

    Therefore God’s judgements may sometimes not seem fair to us, because we don’t have the panoramic view that God has of the human spirit, mind, and soul of every person.


    NOTE: I personally believe, God is the Judge of all judges, and the sovereign king of all kings, who rules over all.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 8, 2017

      God may know all these things, but how can we be sure God cares about our petty little sins?

      One reason we came up with the idea of an afterlife (probably not the first reason) is that life is so patently unfair. So the afterlife would restore the balance. The last would be first, and the first would be last. Evil would be punished, and good rewarded (as we know is so often not the case on earth).

      Let’s posit a different answer–God created Life with the idea that it would constantly change and adapt and work at the puzzle of why it’s here, and what to do about it. The animals and plants as much as humans (and any other sentients that might be out there in the cosmos).

      If God intervened, this would ruin the project. God is not a Shepherd. God is a field biologist. Watching us with great curiosity, wondering what we’ll do next. (Or perhaps already knowing, coterminous with all time as Aquinas posited, but I find it hard to believe even God could know the result of the experiment without having started it first, and Aquinas only came up with that idea to justify God being able to answer prayers.)

      I think we slander God by conflating our evil with His/Her judgement.

      Maybe God wants us to do better. But it’s entirely up to us whether we make it or not.

      Jesus died a horrible painful death, accused of crimes he almost certainly did not commit (overturning a few tables at a market is not generally a capital offense). Pilate probably died in comfortable retirement.

      If you knew for a fact there is no Final Judgement–would you rather be Pilate? Whoever Jesus was, he was unquestionably far more alive in his short span than the Pilates of the world could ever hope to be. And no one was ever more loved by those who knew him. They loved him so much, they couldn’t allow themselves to believe he was dead. So he’s not. And we only remember Pilate at all because of him.

      • cheito
        cheito  July 9, 2017


        I think the answers to many of our questions depend on what we believe, or don’t believe, and in whom we believe or don’t believe.

        I personally believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. I also believe that Jesus literally appeared to Paul after He (Jesus) resurrected from the dead. Therefore my faith is based on the teachings of Christ through Paul and others.

        I don’t believe the synoptic Gospels are historically reliable, but I do believe the Gospel of John is, with all its discrepancies and interpolations.

        When The editor of John’s accounts, records for us in John 6:38, that Jesus stated, that He came down from Heaven, I literally believe that Jesus actually made that statement, and that He was telling the truth.

        Jesus came from another place, above our atmosphere, i.e. a place is in the skies. Call it heaven, or call it another world, if you will; Jesus came from where God Himself dwells and where his throne is.

        Note: I believe that although the Gospel of John we have today, according to most modern scholars, may have first been made public around AD 90-110, However, the source for the edited version we have, was the writings of the disciple whom Jesus loved, according to John 21:24.

        I also understand that some stories were altered in the Gospel of John and others were added in later times by the scribes who copied the Gospel of John. (e.g., The woman caught in adultery, (John 8:3-11), and the latter part of John 5:3,4, were interpolated. And there are other places in the Gospel of John where the words were deliberately altered and/or added.

        I believe that to God anything is possible. I also believe that there are certain things that God will not do, such as accuse someone falsely. I also believe that although God can know everything that a person does and will do, God sometimes chooses not to know at the moment, but allows a person to do whatever they will, and then requires the person to give an account of what they’ve done at the end of their life here on earth. ( I do believe that at the end of our physical life, we all have to appear before Christ to give an account of all we have done while we lived in our body)

        I also believe that if God doesn’t want a certain person to die at the hands of another person, or in a tragic accident, or in a natural disaster, etc, then that person will not die. But If God decides that a certain person will die for whatever reason, then that person will die physically not spiritually. That person is with God and God will deal with that person however God determines to deal with that person. We don’t know where that person has gone, but the person and God knows. This is what I believe!

        To summarize: We live by faith, and that faith is determined by who we believe or not believe, and what we believe or not believe.

        • Avatar
          godspell  July 10, 2017

          I don’t agree with Bart, and I don’t agree with you.

          So I guess we don’t agree.

          And I guess we never will.

          • cheito
            cheito  July 11, 2017

            Never is a long time.

            We’ll see what mysteries will unfold in the future.

            We’re not there yet.


  14. Avatar
    madmargie  July 8, 2017

    “The blight that killed and exiled so many of m Irish ancestors was due to the peasantry being forced to live on a very prolific strain of potato that was not disease resistant, so that they could sustain themselves on tiny plots of land, while the landlords shipped cash crops abroad–even while millions were starving. That wasn’t intentional genocide, but all the true genocides that have occurred–our fault.

    War is always our fault. The rapid spread of virulent diseases into places where there is no natural resistance to them–our fault. Pollution is our fault. The massive proliferation of deadly weapons–can’t say Jesus didn’t warn us.”

    The main problem here is capitalism. ..it’s greed driven.

  15. Avatar
    Boltonian  July 8, 2017

    I really don’t get this idea of free will. What is is it? Where does it reside? How can it be reconciled with cause and effect? If adult behaviour is the result of a combination of childhood environment and genetic inheritance, how can free will exist? Daniel Dennet has tried (unsuccessfully, in my view) in ‘Elbow Room’ to prove some sort of compatibilist compromise, as did the far more eminent philosopher, David Hume, but neither succeeded. Just because we have a belief that it exists doesn’t make it true – any more than believing in God makes Him exist. We used to believe that homosexuality was a choice; that disease was a punishment from God; that addiction was a life-style issue…and so forth. Thankfully, as we become more aware of how little control we actually have, we have become kinder and less intolerant of those who do not share our tastes and inclinations.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 9, 2017

      If something does not exist absolutely, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all. Idealism only works as an idea, hence the name.

      We make choices, all the time, every day, throughout our lives. These choices are often wrong, but they’re not always wrong. We can improve our ability to make the correct choices, with time and experience.

      If we couldn’t make mistakes, free will wouldn’t exist. We can most definitely make mistakes. So it does exist. Q.E.D.

      The only people who question freedom are those who have always had it. If you’d spent even a short time as a prisoner–or a slave–you’d be singing a different tune.

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  July 10, 2017

        You said in an earlier post that you could only speak for yourself. I agree, so I am not sure what makes you know what sort of tune I would be singing in different circumstances.

        How does making mistakes enable free will? Life is what it is. One’s behaviour is governed by things outwith our control: the combination of the environment in which we exist and our genetic inheritance. If there is a prior cause for every effect, where is the room for free will? What, incidentally, is the thing that is doing the choosing?

        Just because people want free will to exist doesn’t make it so.

  16. Avatar
    Seeker1952  July 12, 2017

    Even if a great deal of suffering is “our fault'” haven’t most Christians always believed that God can and sometimes does intervene to end, mitigate or prevent suffering that some humans cause others? Hasn’t that always been one purpose of prayer? So why did God not prevent or greatly mitigate the Jewish Holocaust? My point: even for that evil that’s humanly caused, God would still bear a great deal of responsibility for letting it continue. That’s one reason why, pretty early in my life, I decided against there being an interventionist God, responsive to prayer, even if there is some other kind of God.

  17. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  July 19, 2017

    I have a hard time giiving a fair hearing to any Christian who would be an advisor in the Reagan admimistration, but maybe D’Souza has matured morally since then. I think he is absolutely right about the necessity of the very things that cause the most “natural” suffering for our existence. If we did not exist at all, there would be no one to question why we suffer. I’m a little disappointed that he thinks heaven fixes it all.
    My view is that, if there is an intelligence to the universe, it is a product of the same event that brought everything else into being and is subject to the same laws. I would not expect such an intelligence to be recognizable in human terms, i.e. it would not be conscioius of itself or anything else. It would be more like the way that things seem to work toward pockets of order in the midst of an overarching chaos. Whatever human intelligence is, it is the product of laws and processes that have existed since the Big Bang and, in that sense, there is a primordial intelligence in nature. If I would call anything God, that would be it.

  18. Avatar
    Ana  July 26, 2017

    There is interesting explanation why we suffer. We suffer because we choose to find out what is good and evil. I will try to explain. I am sure many of you heard of NDE (Near Death Experience). Anita Moorjani, Dr. Mary O’Neal and many other credible people talk about such things. They all visited another dimension, world, realm, call it what you wish. It was explained to them, that we chose our earthly lives ourselves . We chose our parent, our mode of suffering and difficulties, we chose level of suffering that suppose to help our souls to evolve and to grow. It is a voluntary thing. This is why God does not interfere with our mission. What is the worst thing that can happen to human? Death. But remember , we do not actually die. Dr. Mary O’Neal and Anita Moorjani talk about actual death as a moment of bliss and peace. They both were comforted in the very moment of death. So the thought of death is more frightening then actual death.
    I just want to say that I believe in God- Creator, the Light. Living people saw the Light. It was incredibly loving, forgiving and compassionate.
    There is no sin, only learning process. Well. You may ask, how about Hitler and Stalin? Was that a learning too? It is difficult for us to comprehend these things. But those offenders are actually had to have a meeting with their victims and see their own deeds not only through their eyes, but through the “eyes” of God and “eyes” of the victims. It is very difficult process but at the very end of it the victims forgive the offender and he is allowed to move on. Perhaps such offender will go back to Earth for another round , another life choosing specific level of suffering that suppose to help him to overcome low qualities of his soul .
    Remember that we can only learn and grow here on Earth where evil and good exists. There is no judgement, there is no such thing as sin, there is no devil with pitch forks. I actually think that hell is here on Earth. It has to be. And we volunteer this mission for out own experience.
    Since I started following subject of NDE, I came intuitively to conclusion that church doctrines are a lie and man made madness. Take for example doctrine of “original sin” What a bunch of baloney that is. But this is another subject. Anyways, I write with a lot of spelling mistakes. English is not my first language . I am originally from Ukraine. So I apologize to you, English people for bastardizing your language a little. Sorry.
    Professor Ehrman, I am sure you have heard of NDE. What are your thoughts on this subject?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2017

      Yes, I have read extensively on NDEs over the past year, from various perspectives (including lots of the spectacular first-hand accounts!). Based on my reading, I personally think they are physiological experiences.

      And I’ve never been drawn to the idea that we choose our own suffering; that works for me (since my suffering has been fairly run of the mill stuff), but not so much for the infant who starves to death or the person who is tortured to death over a period of months, or … or lots of other cases of suffering in extremis. Just my opinion!!

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        Ana  July 27, 2017

        Thank you , Dr. Ehrman. I appreciate your point of view. I guess the idea of choosing our own suffering comes from craving the knowledge. If one wants to visit the jungle one must be ready for deadly snakes and mosquitoes in it. If souls want to visit three dimensional world they have to see it through physical eyes and fragile physical body to experience the life force of living human. Why such place exist? I don’t know.
        And why souls crave knowledge when they live in the bliss surrounded by loving Light ? I don’t have the answer to that either. Perhaps craving knowledge is part of movement, motion of expending Universe. We will never know but we will keep looking into answer each relying on our own experience. Thank you Dr. Ehrman for sharing yours.

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    Malik  January 13, 2018

    What is your opinion of Psalms 51:5? Is it a proof text for the doctrine of “original sin”? If so, how do we understand it in relation to Deuteronomy 23:2 and David?

    Psalm 51:5 King James Version (KJV)
    5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

    Deuteronomy 23:2 King James Version (KJV)
    2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2018

      The doctrine of original sin as it later came to be developed cannot be attesdted, as such, prior to the fifth Christian century (Augustine)

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    ThomasJayOord  August 24, 2018

    Bart –

    In my current work, “God Can’t,” I”m arguing for a different view of divine power. I cite your good book, “God’s Problem,” in my section on healing. I want to cite you accurately, so I’d love to get your response to what I’ve written. Here it is…

    An Evangelical Stops Believing
    One of America’s leading biblical scholars was once an Evangelical. He now no longer believes in God. A long process of thinking through issues of evil and healing brought Bart Ehrman to reject his long-held faith.
    In his book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, Bart looks at how biblical writers address evil. He scours the Old and New Testaments, pointing to proposed explanations for pain and suffering.
    After extensive research, Bart concluded that the Bible offers multiple responses to suffering. But none satisfies. The Bible fails to answer – at least in a straightforward way – the question hurting people ask, “Why didn’t God prevent my suffering?”
    “If there is a God,” writes Ehrman near the end of the book, “he is not the kind of being I believed in as an Evangelical: a personal deity who has ultimate power over this world and intervenes in human affairs to implement his will among us.”
    The God who intervenes doesn’t exist.
    True believers in divine healing may disagree, of course. But Ehrman’s response is powerful: “If God cures cancer, then why do millions die of cancer? If the response is that it is a mystery (‘God works in mysterious ways’), that is the same as saying we do not know what God does or what he is like. So why pretend we do?”
    I think Bart Ehrman is right… at least about one thing: the mystery card will not do. Those who believe God heals must give a reasonable explanation for their belief.
    If we’re clueless about what God does or what God is like (“God works in mysterious ways”), we should stop saying we believe in God. Belief must have some substance.
    But if we think we do know something about what God does and what God is like, we need a plausible account for why some people are cured of cancer while millions of others die.
    We need a theory of divine healing that makes sense.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2018

      Yes, I think that’s a fair summary. Thanks for letting me look at it.

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