In my previous post I began to talk about how thinkers in the Jewish and Christian traditions have wrestled with the problem of suffering.  I indicated that the technical term for this “problem” is “theodicy,” and it is often said to involve the status of three assertions which all are typically thought to be true by those in these two religions, but if true appear to contradict one another.  The assertions are these:

God is all-powerful.

God is all-loving.

There is suffering.

How can all three be true at once?  If God is all powerful, then he is able to do whatever he wants (and can therefore remove suffering).  If he is all loving, then he obviously wants the best for people (and therefore does not want them to suffer).  And yet people suffer.  How can that be explained?   As I pointed out some thinkers have tried to deny one or the other of the assertions: either God is not actually all powerful, or he is not all loving, or there is no suffering.

But as I explain

in the introduction to my book God’s Problem (Oxford Press, 2008) …


Most people who wrestle with the problem want to say that all three assertions are true, but that there is some kind of extenuating circumstance that can explain it all.  For example, in the classical view of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, as we will see at length in the next couple of chapters, God is certainly all powerful and all loving; one of the reasons there is suffering is because his people have violated his law or gone against his will, and he is bringing suffering upon them in order to force them to return to him and lead righteous lives.

This kind of explanation works well so long as it is the wicked who are the ones who suffer.  But what about the wicked who prosper while the ones who try to do what is right before God are wracked with interminable pain and unbearable misery?  How does one explain the suffering of the righteous?  For that other explanations need to be used (for example, that it will all be made right in the afterlife – a view not found in the prophets but in other biblical authors) (there are, as I’m suggesting, other explanations as well in the Bible and in popular thinking).

Even though a scholar of the Enlightenment – Leibniz – came up with the term “theodicy,” and even though the deep philosophical problem has been with us only since the Enlightenment, the basic “problem” has been around since time immemorial.  This was recognized by the intellectuals of the Enlightenment themselves.  One of them, the English philosopher David Hume, pointed out that the problem was stated some twenty-five hundred years ago by one of the great philosophers of ancient Greece, Epicurus:

Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered:

Is God willing to prevent evil but not able?  Then he is impotent.

Is he able but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?  Whence, then, evil?[i]

As I was teaching my course on biblical views of suffering at Rutgers, over twenty years ago (well… thirty-five now!!), I began to realize that the students seemed remarkably, and somewhat inexplicably, detached from the problem.  It was a good group of students: smart and attentive.  But they were for the most part white, middle-class kids who had not experienced a lot of pain in their lives yet, and I had to do some work in order to help them realize that the problem of suffering was in fact a problem.

This was the time of one of the major Ethiopian famines.  In order to drive home for my students just how disturbing suffering could be, I spent some time with them dealing with the problem of the famine.  It was an enormous problem.  In part because of the political situation, but even more because of a massive drought, there were eight million Ethiopians who were confronted with severe shortages and who, as a result, were starving.  Every day there were pictures in the papers of poor souls, famished, desperate, with no relief in sight.  Eventually one out of every eight died the horrific death of starvation.

That’s some two million people, starved to death, in a world that has far more than enough food to feed all its inhabitants, a world where American farmers are paid to destroy their crops, a world where most of us in this country ingest far more calories than our bodies need or want.  To make my point, I would show pictures of the famine to the students, pictures of emaciated Ethiopian women with famished children on their breasts, desperately sucking to get nourishment that would never come, both mother and children eventually destroyed by the ravages of hunger.

Before the semester was over, I think my students got the point.  Most of them did learn to grapple with the problem.  When the course had started, many of them had thought that whatever problem there was with suffering could be fairly easily solved.

The most popular solution they had was one that I would judge most people in our (Western) world today still hold on to.  It has to do with free will.  According to this view, the reason there is so much suffering in the world is that God has given humans free will.  Without the free will to love and obey God, we would simply be robots doing what we were programed to do.  But since we have the free will to love and obey, we also have the free will to hate and disobey, and this is where suffering comes from.  Hitler, the Holocaust, Idi Amin, corrupt governments throughout the world, corrupt humans inside government and outside of it – all of these are explained on the grounds of free will.

As it turns out, this was more or less the answer given by some of the great intellectuals of the Enlightenment, including Leibniz, who argued that humans have to be free in order for this world to be the best world that could come into existence.  For Leibniz, God is all powerful and so was able to create any kind of world he wanted; and since he was all loving he obviously wanted to create the best of all possible worlds.  This world – with freedom of choice given to its creatures – is therefore the best of all possible worlds.

Other philosophers rejected this view – none so famously, vitriolically, and even hilariously as the French philosopher Voltaire, whose classic novel Candide tells the story of a man (Candide) who experiences such senseless and random suffering and misery, in this allegedly “best of all worlds,” that he abandons his Leibnizian upbringing and adopts a more sensible view, that we can’t know the whys and wherefores of what happens in this world, but should simply do our very best to enjoy it while we can.[ii]  Candide is still a novel very much worth reading – witty, clever, and damning.  If this is the best world possible – just imagine what a worse one would be.


I will continue my reflections on the matter starting at this point, in the next post.



[i].  David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (the sentiments are those expressed by his fictitious caracter named Philo). Xxx?

[ii]. Voltaire.  Candide: or Optimism.  Tr. Theo Cuffe (New York: Penguin, 2005).

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2023-02-13T11:09:27-05:00February 23rd, 2023|Public Forum|

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  1. petfield February 23, 2023 at 7:22 am

    Is it too conceited on my behalf to adjudicate free will as a total BS and actually non existent at all argument?
    Is it too difficult for people to understand that 3-year olds who die of some terrible disease, for example, do not have free will? Or that, when a tsunami sweeps 100 thousand people to their death, there’s no plausible way to incorporate a free will? Or that it’s not by any means reasonable to suggest that God allows Hitler’s free will to overwhelm the (antithetical) free will of 10 million people?
    To not mention the knowledge we currently have through physics, that every process in our brains (where intentions and “wills” are forged) is just the quantum mechanical choreograhy of our particles (that make up our brains) – a process governed by the laws of nature (where we obviously can’t interfere). You don’t get free will from there either!
    I think it’s one of these counter “arguments” apologists deploy that really annoys me because of it’s intrinsic dishonesty. It really takes seconds of your intelectually honest thinking to realize it’s fallacious.

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 6:11 pm

      My sense is that people want an easy solution adn actually don’t think much about it once they have it.

    • Okgo5555 February 27, 2023 at 9:42 pm

      I think you are correct in assessing that believers think that “free will” is a better argument than it actually is. I grew up in church and I *NEVER* bought it. I was always kinda judgmental of the smug Christians who thought they were really on to something. haha

  2. kt February 23, 2023 at 8:19 am

    To begin with, I hold the belief that the material world, which is an intrinsic part of our reality, is real. I am cognizant of the fact that scientists and scholars at the highest level, including Nobel Prize winners, contend that matter does not exist beyond the vast universe of consciousness. Some have even questioned the existence of the smallest particle in relation to the quantum world, where consciousness and the mind are believed by some to be the fundamental creative mechanism.

    Nonetheless, suffering remains an integral aspect of our material world, whether we are fully or partially responsible for its existence. It is apparent to me that our minds, states of consciousness, and wills have created a matrix of reality that allows for such phenomena. By considering how much we, both individually and collectively, can alleviate suffering by increasing our love and decreasing our desire for our own ego at the expense of others, the environment, and so forth, it is clear that much of the suffering we experience is attributable to ourselves.

    By cultivating an awareness of our desires, actions, and intentions, we can learn to direct our will towards greater well-being and fulfillment, rather than unnecessary pain and suffering.

  3. shirlpaulson February 23, 2023 at 8:25 am

    It is good to bring up this subject because I think it lies at the foundation of all serious thinking about the relationship between the human and divine. A profoundly thoughtful article that is often overlooked in the context of the theodicy question could add new light. Stephen Gottschalk’s article, “Theodicy after Auschwitz and the Reality of God” from the Union Seminary Quarterly Review (1987) argues that the “question of evil could only be answered at the existential level of the demonstration of the sovereignty of God,” and he cites Mary Baker Eddy’s defense of the goodness and omnipotence of God resting on the nature of God in contrast to human perceptions of the human experience. The logic of God was a radical but rational challenge to the evidence of the senses. And its result was the practical transformation of the situation. Gottschalk specifically challenges Barth’s (not Bart!) critique against Eddy, pointing out that “the Word made flesh” is palpable and perceptible to human understanding.

  4. Stephen February 23, 2023 at 9:41 am

    It’s not just that God allows suffering. The problem of evil comes about by the act of creating at all. By definition God cannot create that which is greater than or even equal to himself – there can be none. So any creation must by necessity be less than God, imperfect, corruptible. In creating God creates the potential for evil, for suffering. Without creation no evil or suffering would be possible. God is without need, self-sufficient, complete. He hates evil. Why create at all?

  5. JacobSapp01 February 23, 2023 at 4:13 pm

    I read Candide in my AP Literature class as a Senior In High School about 15 years ago. One of the most hilarious and scathing books I’ve ever read!

    Reminds me of the song from Godspell “It’s all for the best!”

    The Legos in that one movie were wrong. Everything is not, in fact, awesome. Do you think we will ever solve the hunger crisis?

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 6:14 pm

      I doubt it. There just isn’t the political will.

  6. Lev February 23, 2023 at 5:27 pm

    I won’t pretend to have an answer of my own on the matter of theodicy, as it is such a difficult question, but the best answer I’ve heard from someone else (so far) came from the manager of a bar I frequent in Manchester.

    Her theory is that we don’t live in the world we think we do – that we already have died and this life is a form of purgatory – it’s just we don’t realise it yet. I quite like the sound of that as it would explain a few things.

    So there you go, Bart. The answer to humanity’s most difficult question has been found, not among the most prestigious universities or finest philosophers the world has to offer, but from my mate Jazz who manages a dive bar in Manchester! 😀

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 6:15 pm

      OK, then. I suppose taking that route you could as easily argue we are a computer simulation, in the Matrix, etc… But, yup, if so we don’t know….

      • Gabe_Grinstead March 5, 2023 at 11:28 am

        We are all on equal footing regarding the why’s. No degree makes anyone more able to answer this question than another. In the end, you will be just as dead as the uneducated masses. You have no special privilege in the next life, if there even is one. Wouldn’t it be ironic, if your intellect is actually a barrier to living this life to the fullest? Not preaching, agnostic myself.

        • BDEhrman March 5, 2023 at 9:14 pm

          Yup, lots of amazing but possible ironies out there! One just has to live on…

  7. RD February 23, 2023 at 8:02 pm

    Suffering is also rampant in the animal world. Thousands of carnivorous creatures routinely inflict torturous deaths on their prey. What benevolent God would create or intelligently design such a system or allow it to continue? As Woody Allen described the world in one of his movies “It’s one big restaurant.”

    There is no explanation for suffering. Unfortunately, “It is what it is.” All we can do is our best to prevent and alleviate it.

    • petfield February 28, 2023 at 9:09 am

      Such an accurate and grossly underrated point!

    • Gabe_Grinstead March 5, 2023 at 11:32 am

      The assumption is that suffering is evil. I agree, the animal kingdom is cruel. But is cruel bad? Is pain bad? Why do we suppose goodness means a problem free life that never ends? As with all things, presuppositions we all carry on this topic influence our thoughts, perhaps even dictates them.

      • BDEhrman March 6, 2023 at 9:11 pm

        Yup, I agree. I think some pain and suffering is good, sometimes very good. Much of mine has been over the years. But there’s also horrible suffering in extremis with no redemptive value, and that, for me, is the problem.

  8. geofff February 24, 2023 at 1:09 am

    Such an excellent title for this post! That is, for the typical Conservative Evangelical / Fundamentalist the Suffering itself isn’t a problem (just keep looking after #1 & don’t allow compassion to intrude) but the Problem of Suffering is the problem. So through fear of the cognitive dissonance it may well create, the solution is to ignore it, or downplay it or jump through the many convoluted / ridiculous explanations that we’ve heard from the likes of Kyle Butt or William Lane Craig (whom we’ve heard Prof Ehrman debate).
    Einstein was right (as usual) about the 3 great forces which rule the world : Stupidity, Fear & Greed

  9. abrichardson031565 February 25, 2023 at 12:16 am

    If there is a god, then he is willing but capricious, and doesn’t give a damn about suffering, and he is probably amused by it all. The example of Ethiopian families – these are probably pious Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. If god is god, and if god is a trinity, then what’s the point of letting his people suffer – I don’t imagine their free will involves starvation? In Revelations, sweet Jayzus ain’t turning no cheeks there, baby. Pious Catholic mothers whose children were afflicted with zika virus in South America? Millions of Jews [ahem, god’s chosen people] allowed to be slaughtered in concentration camps? Millions of Orthodox Christians killed by communists and suffering in soviet concentration camps? One Orthodox country waging war against another with a patriarch in full support? Come on, yahweh, what for? The simple answer – s$%h happens, people can be evil, god doesn’t care. He was probably amused by letting Satan have at Job.

  10. ktn3654 February 25, 2023 at 6:55 pm

    Have you found many examples of ancient Christian thinkers grappling with this problem in more or less the form you’ve presented it? In my reading of Augustine and other early church fathers, I’ve found it striking how the problem doesn’t quite seem to occur to them. To the extent they get close to it, they seem to deal with it via the doctrine of original sin. We’re all sinful, we’re all wicked, so we all really deserve to suffer. It’s a sign of God’s grace that he gives us any chance for salvation at all.

    Epicurus, of course, was a pagan–and it would be remarkable if a pagan grappled with the problem more than most Christians did. Do you know if he was actually committed to some sort of monotheism? (For the vast majority of pagans, I’m sure there would have been no “problem” at all. They regarded their own gods as anything but consistently benevolent.)

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:43 pm

      This way of formulating has mainly come down to us from thinkers in the Enlightenment, such as David Hume.

  11. R_Gerl February 25, 2023 at 8:57 pm

    As usual, great post, Dr. Ehrman thank you so much for it. Your posts are always a delight to read, and you deserve the highest respect from society for the great scholarly work that you do. Question: haven’t many theologians tried to deal with the problem of evil/suffering by invoking the doctrine of original sin? As you know, Paul writes that humans are as filthy rags in the sight of God and so the idea there would be that God allows evil and suffering because the original sin inside humans makes them unworthy of divine help. In this theology, good people are not so good that they are exempt from suffering and being victims of evil. As you know, in Eastern religions there is the idea of Karma which asserts that the evil and suffering that people encounter is a result of their bad past deeds: either in this life or a previous life. In this Eastern view, the bad Karma that people have is what makes them victims of evil and suffering; and in this scenario God is off the hook. What do you think of these ideas? thx.

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:45 pm

      Yes indeed, that is a long standing solution, even among those who are not Augustinians. Adam brought sin into the world. We as his descendants are all infected with it. And it introduced natural evil . Ain’t God’s fault!

  12. That Tuning Guy February 25, 2023 at 9:03 pm

    My biggest issue with God is along these same lines. Simply put, he NEVER (physically) shows up! Why would a loving god just NEVER show up? At least show up every generation so we know he’s there.

  13. Neurotheologian February 26, 2023 at 5:56 am

    I think the problem of suffering (including natural evil) and the problem of moral evil are separate issues and should not be conflated. The problem of moral evil can be answered by free will. The problem of suffering may be at least partly answered, considering both suffering and pleasure /Joy 2 sides of the coin of consciousness and part of the purpose of our earthly existence. The experience of suffering is often (if not, always) a negation of some positive experience. Being hated instead of loved; experiencing physical pain, as opposed to physical pleasure; losing as opposed to gaining; dying, as opposed to living; hunger as opposed, satiation etc. The one quality of the divine, which you didn’t mention, is omniscience. Ultimately, this means that God experiences all our suffering as if he was us. Without suffering of some degree, there could be no true empathic love. It’s almost as if the depths must be plumbed in order for the heights to be reached. Maybe suffering is actually part of our purpose.

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:47 pm

      Well, it may be my purpose but I don’t think it’s a purpose for some young child right now who can’t even whimper becasue she’s starving to death….

      • Neurotheologian February 28, 2023 at 2:24 am

        Yes, that’s a fair point, but how do you know that there is no purpose in the brief life of the young child you envisage? Is it the brevity of his or her life that robs it of purpose? Or is it their inability to speak out or represent themselves? Maybe it’s your estimate of the experienced joy / suffering ratio? How do you know how much that child suffered? Suffering is often greater, the more you lose or the greater the negation of your former joys. An academic in the early stages of dementia, a beautiful woman growing old, a king losing his power, an athlete becoming disabled, any of us with a clean bill of health, coming down with cancer, any of us growing old, the prospect of ongoing incurable pain, the depths of depression, the loss of a beloved lifelong partner…. I could go on, but……

        • BDEhrman February 28, 2023 at 9:14 pm

          What robs it of its purpose is the insanely horrible and pointless suffering. I think passing it off as probably not so bad or good for her or doing something good for the rest of us is completely calloused. There really is massive, non-redemptive suffering if we actually look around. It’s a viciously cruel world, even if we do want to do our best to make sense of it.

  14. Okgo5555 February 27, 2023 at 9:31 pm

    Bart I’m sure you are familiar with the argument of Evil/Suffering as merely the privation of good. Do you see a Biblical, Theological answer to this question based on the presentation and commission of Mankind in Genesis? Yes, I understand that we are presuming that someone is willing to take on the axiomatic position that the God of the Bible is real and that the Bible- in some sense- is a means of understanding that God’s Will for creation:

    Q: Why do people suffer from XXX or why does God allow a precious animal (like your Deer parasite example)?
    A: Unfortunately, people suffer from natural disasters because the corporate entity of humankind has thus far failed to fulfill their full responsibility of reflecting their Creator within the dominion they have been charged with in genesis.

    Which is to say that our poor, deer friend (no pun intended) suffers an agonizing death because WE have not discovered the creative means to alleviate that suffering… YET.

    • BDEhrman February 28, 2023 at 9:10 pm

      No, I don’t think that is one of the biblical answers, but it certainly became a major theological view starting in the fifth century, esp.
      I myself don’t think it’s convincing that someone suffers because of what we failed to do yet. People have been suffering from absolutely horrible diseases and natural disasters for hundreds of thousands of years, before anyone *could* come up with a solution.

      • Okgo5555 March 1, 2023 at 9:24 pm

        Hmm… Can you point me to some notable theologians that held a view in that vein?

        I do understand that “privation” was a part of historical Christian thought.

        Theologically, i’m arguing based on the potential implcations of what being created in the Divine Image and having “dominion” in Creation in the stead of the diety presented in Genesis. I haven’t encountered that line of thinking myself as many of the early interpretations seem to take the Genesis mythological structure rather literally. I’m not such how someone could read Gen 1-3 literally and also see *ALL* mankind as god’s ambassadors to creation.

        The merit/believability of this arguement isn’t my main concern; just if this sounds like a “biblical” POV.

        • BDEhrman March 2, 2023 at 6:09 pm

          Yes, it does become a part of historical Christian thought. Augustine advances the view. But the Bible never takes that stand, even though theologians appeal to the Bible in support of the view. Not the same thing.

          • Okgo5555 March 2, 2023 at 6:32 pm

            My original religious context was very antagonistic to Reformed theology. I’m still catching up on my familiarity with Augustine [that damned “Romanizer!” Lol].

            I was essentially stuck with whatever Jack Hyles taught, and the Mathew Henry commentary. 😆

  15. Neurotheologian February 28, 2023 at 2:25 am

    (Continued) …. The point is that we don’t know how much people suffer, but it gives others the opportunity for kindness (there would be no kindness without suffering and kindness is a way of sharing in the purposes of God). And when we suffer, it gives us the opportunity to show endurance, grace, hope, trust and to ‘love the Lord thy God’ in a truly abandoned way: with all our heart, with our soul and all our strength. Are there any greater virtues? Are there any greater purposes?

    • BDEhrman February 28, 2023 at 9:15 pm

      I do think we know how much people suffer. Many of tell us. No one starving to death or watching their child die of starvation has say, Hey, it’s not so bad!

      • kt March 1, 2023 at 10:46 am

        I completely agree with you. It’s sadly a fact!

        This attitude gives me a warm feeling. Your “will” to address the issues by doing this blog, demonstrates your willingness to confront it and take action to make a difference.

  16. Neurotheologian March 1, 2023 at 3:16 am

    Language is not adequate even to describe physical reality (Wittgenstein, Quine etc) let alone conscious experience. The only way to know anything about what suffering is like, is to suffer oneself and that is the basis of empathic love. Even then, you still cannot know what another’s suffering (or any aspect of their conscious experience) is like – the philosophical ‘problem of other minds’. However, as you point out, anyone saying “hey it’s not too bad” isn’t really suffering. So are we agreed that despite its unpleasantness (at the least and almost unbearableness at the most), suffering may have purpose and that enduring it with grace could be considered a virtue?

    • BDEhrman March 2, 2023 at 4:12 pm

      I agree that’s the best approach when I myself have a personal difficulty — loss of job, flu, car accident where no one is horribly injured or killed, etc — that is, the kinds of things that just happen in life to basically normal/average people in safe situations in relatively wealthy societies and who do not have enormous problems. But I definitely do not agree that all suffering has a purpose. For me as one who is well-off, with a good job, a great family, and so on it would be horribly calloused to think, in my opinion, that about people buried under rubble who suffocate after six days, or who have to watch their young children starve to death, or who are born with unbearably painful birth defects, or … any of the many millions who are suffering in extremis while I type this. If we soothe our own consciences by saying that there is anything good about that, I’d say we are callously indifferent and/or in denial.

      • Neurotheologian March 2, 2023 at 6:18 pm

        I get what you’re saying, of course I do, but I wasn’t suggesting that you walk up to the mother of a dying child and tell her the there is a purpose in her child’s suffering, and I wasn’t suggesting that you stand by a rescuer and start preaching to somebody half buried under the rubble that they need to see purpose in their suffering! Faced with the suffering of others close by, all we can do is try to help as much as we possibly can, and when we can’t, then to weep with those who weep. I was actually saying exactly what you have just said about approaching, your own suffering and the points I had made come from facing my own suffering. So I really think deep down we are on the same page. I also see how you do your best to raise money to help others. This is showing love and surely gives you purpose. But surely it’s also okay, to believe, without callously patronising anybody, that in the end, all suffering does have a purpose. That’s what I believe anyway.

      • sLiu March 7, 2023 at 7:07 pm

        before 1998 after living in Shanghai for a few months, I raised in the USA saw the struggles & difficulties of my Shanghai neighbors. Who did not have much care what the executive leadership did, so their concerns & mine were the municipal government. This so utterly overwhelmed me that I was no longer an American Victim!

        20 years later there is the Xinjiang stuff, which I ask around & see how my Xinjiang/East Turkestan neighbors are doing. But as for what could be going on there. None of my business.
        But when it came to Hong Kong which I relied on for visas or renewals since 1995, news reported accurately was my concern [citizen journalism] & I was blessed to live there for almost a year due to coronavirus!

  17. Neurotheologian March 2, 2023 at 5:39 am

    Maybe the purposes of suffering could include teaching us to be able to understand and share in the suffering of others, to accept the love of others gracefully, to endure gracefully, to trust and hope in God despite the circumstances ie to love God with utter abandon and reject negativity in all its guises. In a nutshell, to overcome evil.

  18. AngeloB March 2, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    Bart, how do Christian apologists defend the doctrine of Original Sin when the Adam and Eve story is not historical?

  19. dankoh March 2, 2023 at 11:54 pm

    The Holocaust presents a major theological problem for traditional rabbis, because so many of the Jewish victims were Orthodox, the ones who were trying the hardest to keep the traditions. Some even tried to solve this conundrum by saying the Holocaust was God’s punishment for not stopping the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment).

  20. Neurotheologian March 3, 2023 at 3:34 am

    Bart, your phrase “where no one is horribly injured or killed, etc — that is, the kinds of things that just happen in life to basically normal/average people in safe situations in relatively wealthy societies and who do not have enormous problems“ is interesting in that it may reflect the suffering you yourself fear most. It reminded me of the true story of a a happy, healthy, wealthy family man who crashed his car killing his wife, his youngest son, wounding his other son and suffering horrendous injuries himself. He had a very interesting NDE and subsequent mystical experiences in which he “was shown” some of the purposes of his agonising suffering and loses. Watch it if you dare:

    • BDEhrman March 5, 2023 at 8:16 pm

      Oh yes, there are many, many stories about this, about how people find meaning in horrible suffering. I am all for them finding solace in the midst of pain, any way they can get it. When I was an evangelical we were all completely entranced with the story of Joni Erickson, who is still around I believe.

      • Neurotheologian March 6, 2023 at 11:19 am
        Yes it looks like she’s still around. I remember my mother reading her book and telling me all about it. It looks like she’s achieved a stupendous amount mainly because of her disability.

        • BDEhrman March 10, 2023 at 7:08 pm

          She has. I have a good friend from my evangelical days whom I by chance met up with in Jerusalem a few years ago; she had been in Jordan distributing free wheelchairs to those born with birth defects who, before that, had to spend their lives crawling, all funded by Joni’s charity. Fantastic.

  21. enigmalias March 7, 2023 at 10:05 pm

    There isn’t supposed to be an accessible answer to theodicy, let alone an easy one, and this is the essence of religion. As mentioned in the post, the basic gist of theodicy has been around forever.

    The Abrahamic religions are ultimately monotheistic (even if their followers are not), meaning Gd is responsible for **all** of creation, including evil and tragedy. To say otherwise indicates something other than monotheism.

    There’s ultimately a reason for why we must contend with evil and seemingly senseless tragedy, but if we were to know why we would not hurt as we do (and hurt is what we must do). This struggle is nothing new; it’s precisely what it means to wrestle with Gd.

    Just as a parent knows better than their child what’s best for them, Gd knows better than man what’s best for him.. part of what it means to trust Gd is to trust He knows “better than I”. The truth is that evil and tragedy are not good, so we *should* be outraged (and not cheapen suffering) and take it up with Gd.. but that all of it is ultimately **for** the good, because Gd is responsible for all creation. That is monotheism.

    • Neurotheologian March 12, 2023 at 10:55 am

      I agree: struggle, cry out in despair, even rage, but ultimately trust, hope and love God.

  22. mkoufakis March 11, 2023 at 5:45 am

    Suffering creates opportunity for others to do good. Perhaps it is a test and a free will choice for us to make for the greater good.

    I live with 2 adult autistic sons. One is a low functioning, non-verbal with sever brain inflammation and suffers daily. He did nothing wrong. Neither did Job’s children. Job was being tested for his faith but did not know it.

    My sons suffering is a challenge and problem for me to try and solve (if I choose to) for both him and others.

    I think it is my journey to find the causes of autism and ways to possibly cure it. Also my wife is the executive chairperson of the first group homes in NY. We have created our own charitable foundation and donated a school for a vocational training center to integrate special needs adults into the workplace.

    This probably does not happen unless my children suffered.

    Starvation and war are man-made problems man can solve if he has the will and chooses to.

    Diseases can be solved too. Some natural disasters can be mitigated.

    Perhaps it is our responsibility and choice to create heaven on earth.

  23. billw977 September 10, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    So, this just occurred to me recently so I’m kind of late in responding to this post but I remember you saying that human suffering was the main reason you left the faith. But doesn’t the Bible itself explain why there is suffering? Isn’t God justified in all of this? We’ve talked about free will, Adam’s sin and the sinful nature, etc. But what about the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Evil didn’t exist for Adam and Eve until they ate. How can they have knowledge of evil unless it exits? The innocent suffering IS evil. Wasn’t it mankind who opened the door? God warned them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good AND EVIL. Yet, they wanted to know. They wanted to be like God. God IS loving and compassionate and he still works with us and helps us even through all this. Again though, isn’t God justified? Where is he wrong in any of this?

    • BDEhrman September 11, 2023 at 3:04 pm

      Yes, my book God’s Problem explains the various understandings of why there is suffering according to different authors of the Bible, and, in part, why I don’t think any of teh answers is satisfactory these days.

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