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Two Unsatisfactory Solutions to the Problem of Suffering

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

One of the most interesting things about this question is that – unlike anything else I ever encounter, think about, read about, or write about in my career as a biblical scholar – this is a question that virtually *everyone* has reflected on and has an opinion about.  Just about everyone.   Even those who say “I have no idea!” are invariably people who have thought about it and realized that none of the solutions make sense, or that it is beyond their ability to figure out.  Many, many people (most people) do have some kind of solution or, more often, a set of solutions, which either satisfy them intellectually or, more important, comfort them emotionally.

My view is that some approaches to the problem of suffering are better than others.   In this post I’d like to talk about two approaches that strike me as completely unhelpful.  These are approaches I encountered after I wrote my book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer..   The first approach was taken by a well-known, high profile biblical scholar who took an intellectual (I would even say cerebral) approach to the issue. The other was taken by a poor, unknown mother who was grappling with a horrible incident in her life.

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The Classic “Problem” of Suffering
The Kind of Suffering that is a Problem

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Comments

  1. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  June 27, 2017

    I was brought up with the idea that we suffer because Adam and Eve sinned. God never wanted this to happen, but since then his hands are (more or less) tied and now the forces of evil have a ‘free ride’ on suffering and punishing the world. Well, for the time being. Only for now, because Jesus ‘won on the cross’. God still has a plan for us. Suffering will end ‘shortly’ after Jesus returns to earth.
    What is your view on this idea? Because of this idea I believe many Christians reject evolution. Because evolution shows there was a lot of suffering going on long before the Garden of Eden.

    • catguy  July 2, 2017

      I agree that when sin entered the world, humanity-and for that matter all of creation-had a huge problem. God cannot tolerate sin because sin corrupts. Sin rots and destroys the perfect world that the Word created. God is all-powerful so I do not have a mental picture that He has His hands tied. Adam and Eve sinned and from that point a plan was put into place. I think part of the problem humanity has in accepting that God is incapable or doesn’t care about human suffering is that we expect God to do something “right now.” To God a day is like a thousand years it says I believe in 1 Peter. Not sure which book exactly. But I believe God’s promises and there will be a time all of this will be sorted out. As for evolution, I was never able to believe it because it isn’t real science. I have often said if aeronautical engineering has as many flaws and gaps and poorly constructed hypotheses as evolution, we wouldn’t be doing much flying-if any. Evolution supports palenontology and vv so you really have to use your imagination. I may (if you will excuse the term) a Neanderthal but I believe in a literal creation and I believe in the gap theory which explains a great deal that fundamentalists are unable to rectify. As I always say on these posts, this is my humble opinion anyway.

      • ronaldus67
        ronaldus67  July 2, 2017

        Thanks for your responce. However, I totally disagree with it. I think it is based on too many metaphysical assumptions.
        To say that evolution is not real science is shocking to me. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Ofcourse there are gaps. But that is exactly what science is all about. Closing the gaps. Anyway, have a nice day.

        • catguy  July 3, 2017

          Ronald, I guess we can agree to disagree. I have no faith in evolution as a science. I believe in real science and as I pointed out, there are many laws of physics, chemistry, etc. that are provable and work well in engineering and so on. Evolution is based on too many assumptions and gaps that in honesty it takes a type of faith to believe in it. Ditto I guess for creation so at least IMHO to believe in either a literal creation or in evolution requires equal faith. I guess one day we will all know what actually happened. Take care.

      • SidDhartha1953  July 3, 2017

        A couple of things I hope you can clarify for me, Catguy. You say you believe in a “gap theory.” Do you mean that there is an indeterminate period of time between Gen. 1:1 & 1:2? I’ve heard that offered to allow for the obvious fact that the earth is much older than 6,000 years. But it doesn’s solve the problem that, in Gen. 1:2, none of the things that are known from the geological record have yet happened.
        Which leads to another puzzle. You say evolution supports paleontology. Did you not mean that paleontology supports evolution? Paleontology is the branch of geology that uses the fossil record to understand what happened in the distant past, whether it concerns dinosaurs or early hominids or anything else in the family tree of life.
        As far as God being unable to (that’s the meaning of “cannot”) tolerate sin: then why does “he” continue to tolerate it? It’s been thousands or even more than 100,000 years that our species has been on this planet and we’re still sinning. How many thousand year days does God need to fix a problem?

  2. Hormiga  June 27, 2017

    As long as we’re doing this, have you ever discussed spontaneous abortion/miscarriage with Christians who think abortion is murder? Apparently up to half of fertilized eggs are lost before or just after implantaion and after that the spontaneous abortion rate can be substantial. So do they think abortion is only evil when people do it? And what happens to the souls of the spontaneously aborted eggs, embryos, fetuses?

    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001488.htm

    http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/abnormalities-of-pregnancy/spontaneous-abortion

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      No, I haven’t had any occasion to discuss abortion on the blog.

    • bradseggie  June 28, 2017

      That argument is like saying that there’s no difference between dying of natural causes and a murder. If murder is “wrong,” then why does God murder people with health problems?

      Personally I don’t think it’s a persuasive argument. A person dying of cancer is not God committing a murder, and a miscarriage is not God performing an abortion.

    • flcombs  June 29, 2017

      Not debating abortion but a related concept: it is interesting when you bring up children and babies being massacred in the old testament. Prominent apologists such as William Lane Craig say things like “the children were done no harm since they are guaranteed to be in heaven.” I don’t know with what authority that view is supported, but it sounds like just trying to put the issue off. If true, then wouldn’t every parent want to abort their pregnancies so they could guarantee their eternal life in heaven instead of a life guaranteed to sin and likely lead to hell? You would think that whatever happens to babies and the unborn would be the same in either case.

  3. Boltonian  June 27, 2017

    The other old chestnut as a justification for god allowing suffering is ‘He has given us free-will which we choose to abuse.’
    Firstly, why did He do that if it inevitably leads to suffering? And, secondly, what exactly is free-will? Where does it reside? Can we measure it? Can we observe it? What evidence is there that it exists at all? If cause and effect is true, how can free-will also be true? If behaviour is a consequence of our genetic inheritance and the environment, where does free-will fit in: we cannot choose our parents nor do we have any control over our history or environment within which we grow up?

    • dankoh  June 29, 2017

      What kind of free will is a mudslide?

      • SidDhartha1953  July 3, 2017

        Some exegetes seriously believe that every uncomfortable fact of life, from cats killing mice to natural disasters, did not begin to occur until Eve and Adam consumed the forbidden fruit. There are apparently no limits to the magical thinking of people who insist on taking the KJV at face value.

  4. godspell  June 27, 2017

    The second pastor falls under the heading of strawman arguments. The first under the heading of trying to make sense of everything, something no finite being could ever do (doesn’t seem to stop us from trying). Yes, it’s eyeroll worthy, but the man’s job is to try figure this kind of thing out. Yours isn’t. Historians deal with tangible questions, that have (one hopes) tangible answers.

    The principle atheist thinkers now seem to be coming at the problem of suffering from a Darwinist angle, which I’m not sure Darwin would approve of, but it’s not as if Jesus would have approved of any of this.

    That pastor you describe is to theism what Social Darwinism is to atheism. I don’t think much of him, but I like him better than the ones saying “Suffering is to weed out the genetically inferior.” Or how about Sam Harris’ little thought experiment about how it might be necessary to make a preemptive nuclear strike on a Muslim nation that had nukes? Is that worthy of an Ai yai yai or two?

    Incidentally, ‘Ai yai yai,’ isn’t an argument. It’s not even good Spanish. 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      Luckily I wasn’t making an argument or speaking Spanish!!

      • godspell  June 29, 2017

        You are being a wee bit Jesuitical, perhaps, but I note in passing you haven’t tried taking any of them on yet. 😉

      • Michael Toon  July 6, 2017

        Haha!

  5. wawawa  June 27, 2017

    You are right Dr. Ehrman, “Ai yai yai, where do you even start?”
    My wife is a pediatrics nurse and told me that one of her patient’s mother said that the baby was born defective because she (the mother) is being punished by GOD for her sins in the past.
    What kind of god would punish an innocent person for sins of another person? It is amazing how people surrender their ability to THINK.

    • RVBlake  June 28, 2017

      Is that not the definition of Christianity? Someone losing his life to purchase the salvation of many?

      • SidDhartha1953  July 3, 2017

        That’s one definition of Christianity — a very defective one, in my opinion. But I’m no scholar, so don’t worry what I think.

      • johnlein  July 3, 2017

        That’s the definition of Christianity according to Anselm and Calvin. There are other definitions.

    • godspell  June 29, 2017

      Yes, it is.

      But they surrender it just as easily to distorted and inaccurate versions of Darwinian science, that would say that baby should be put to death as a genetic misfit.

      Or did you miss the 20th century?

      Is the problem religious people? Or just people? In the latter case, it’s not really going to matter much which idea they’ve decided to use to justify doing and saying what they were going to do or say anyhow.

      • RVBlake  July 1, 2017

        I’m aware of the 20th Century, having lived throughout half of it. And, I’m not talking about the adherents of any particular dogma, I’m talking about the basis of Christianity itself.

        • godspell  July 2, 2017

          The basis of Christianity is love.

          Or ought to be.

          • antoinelamond
            antoinelamond  July 4, 2017

            So what did Jesus mean when he said he is coming back with a sword (Matt. 10:34)?

  6. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  June 27, 2017

    Good morning Bart! I just want to say thank you for being a good person. Also, thank you for working so hard, and spreading knowledge. You are good news. If you ever became a father again in a church, I would go every time no matter how far it was… I would help greet at the door for you with a smile and a pure heart…

    I AM < Father

  7. kjme410  June 27, 2017

    In this “Reasons To Believe” article, Dr. Fazale Rana argues that suffering from Cholera is somehow man’s fault. It just doesn’t seem to be a very satisfying argument to me. When confronted with this cold, brutal world, I often think of your reference to Ecclesiastes 8:15. It seems this world is what it is and we somehow have to deal with it.

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/natural-evil-or-moral-evil

  8. john76  June 27, 2017

    Even a child can observe that life isn’t fair, but I think Christians tend to be of the mindset that there is a promise of justice in the next world, rather than in this world. The problem of suffering seems to be more of a problem for secular people who view death as an ultimate stop.

    • Jim Cherry  June 29, 2017

      For secular people who view death much as the ancient Hebrews – going to Sheol and “sleeping with the ancestors,” death is not so much an “ultimate stop” but rather it takes away “ultimate justice.” Evil people can die and get away with it. Therefore the need to address social injustices in this world.

  9. Chasdot  June 27, 2017

    Thanks so much for your thoughts here. It reminded me that when we view suffering wrongly we can turn problems that are solved economically into unsolvable moral problems. At a church I attended we had two young women, one a single mother of six that ran away from an abusive situation and one a pregnant high school senior. I took both aside and explained how they could improve their situation by getting into the institution where I’m a professor (a local tech college) and complete their degree for free (or nearly free) because they were economically disadvantaged. They both graduated (the single mother as an RN and the second in criminal justice) and are functioning, taxpaying members of the local community, dependent on no one.

    Their suffering was not a moral issue and in many ways no fault of their own. So, placing no moral stipulation on their condition allowed members of of the community and myself to solve the core problem…an economic one.

  10. NancyGKnapp  June 27, 2017

    What do you think of the following explanation? In 1944 Leslie D. Weatherhead published a little book, “The Will of God,” a collection of five sermons. His understanding seems to be that God’s will needs to be differentiated as follows: The intentional will of God is God’s ideal purpose. The circumstantial will comes into play when circumstances thwart the intentional will such as suffering from natural disasters (laws of nature are not deflected) and spiritual (men have free will)–the evil circumstances created by the folly of sinful humans such as war, etc.. The ultimate will means that “God’s will” will be victorious in the end in spite of evil, even using evil to accomplish his purpose. Weatherhead uses the illustration of the cross. The intention was that men should follow Jesus not kill him. Under the circumstances, Jesus had a choice of running away or facing the cross. He chose to face death in a positive way which led to the accomplishment of God’s ultimate will–the redemption of man.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      Yes, it’s one of the better attempts. But I think it’s also highly problematic. Who created the conditions for the circumstances that can thwart God’s intentions?

      • godspell  June 29, 2017

        I think Zoroastrians had that answer, and since they’re still around, they still do.

        Whether you believe it is another matter, obviously. But self-evidently, if you’re an agnostic about one religion, you’re agnostic with regards to all of them and in fact most theistic religions, past and present have very convincing explanations for the existence of evil, while still asserting their God(s) is both powerful and beneficient–How say you to that?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 30, 2017

          I know these explanations and don’t find them at all convincing!

          • godspell  June 30, 2017

            And you’ve discussed this with how many Zoroastrians, Jains, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, Taoists, assorted nature worshippers, etc?

            The problem here is that you are now so far outside the boundaries of your area of expertise, the boundaries araen’t even visible from where you are standing.

            You have every right to your opinions, and your feelings, but that’s all they are.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 2, 2017

            I”m not sure why you’re having such a strong reaction to my posts. I’m not claiming to do anything other than to explain why I became an agnostic.

          • godspell  July 2, 2017

            And I’m not trying to do anything but question your explanation, which seems full of holes to me.

            You knew about suffering for a long time before you became an agnostic.

            And many have responded to suffering, their own, and that of others, by become more religious–sometimes even by becoming saints.

            I stopped being a practicing Catholic because I had specific disagreements with certain doctrines of the church I was raised in, and I began to better understand who Jesus really was, and what he really believed. However, this didn’t make me any less influenced by my religious upbringing, and I don’t consider myself to have rejected it. It’s part of who I am, and always will be. In many ways, it’s more important to me now than it was when I blindly accepted it. I have all the respect in the world for those who have come to similar conclusions, but have decided to remain inside the ranks of their various religions, in hopes of changing them over time. But perhaps also because they need a structure to rebel against. And I respect those who have chosen to be atheists or agnostics–as long as they are willing to concede this is yet another belief system.

            Life is about tensions, contradictions, opposing ideas, opposing truths. History is made of these tensions. We should never kid ourselves we’ve reached some final state of enlightenment. There’s always another one coming.

            The more aware I am of suffering, the more important it becomes.

            And the more aware I am that the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 3, 2017

            It sounds like you’re saying that if I used to find some explanations satisfying, or if others find some explanations satisfying still, I have no right *not* to consider them satisfying now. I don’t see why that would be. We often mature in our understanding of things.

    • Hormiga  June 28, 2017

      > The intention was that men should follow Jesus not kill him.

      Wait, I thought the very purpose of Jesus’ existence, preordained from the beginning, was to serve as an atoning sacrifice. Were not Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate and the Roman soldiers acting as instruments of God’s will?

  11. mwbaugh  June 27, 2017

    I’ve heard all these explanations and don’t think any of them is satisfactory either. I sometimes wonder if maybe God is unable to prevent tragic situations. That doesn’t fit with the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent model of God we get from Aquinas, but that great scholar admitted that all models of God, including his, were only out best guesses. I wonder if maybe creation is something that, by its very nature, has a chaotic nature that God has to work with.

    I don’t know if this is true or not, only that it is an answer that appeals to be. In the end I have to fall back on “I don’t know.” It may be the only completely honest answer. When I’m called on to help someone in a horrible and incomprehensible crisis, I don’t offer explanations. In counseling people, the key is being there through the painful times, listening to their grief and anger, not defending or explaining, just walking through the darkness with them.

    This is not a logical answer either, but I have come to believe this is how God works. Like a counselor, God offers no explanation for tragedy, but God is constantly with us through the tragedy offering compassion without excuse of judgment.

  12. gavriel  June 27, 2017

    Do you think people in future civilizations on earth, lets say in a hundred thousand years from now, will look back on our age as a the necessary birth pangs of their own long existing, well organized and enjoyable societies?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      Sure — just as we look back on ages before us.

      • godspell  June 30, 2017

        Most of us don’t, you know. Well, you must know, given your profession. 😉

  13. Silver  June 27, 2017

    In your debates with those who see no difficulty with the problem of suffering do you have any sense of how they might respond to two issues which exercise me greatly:
    1. If they truly believe that suffering is a result of man’s free will why do they pray for God’s intervention to overcome some terrible injustice e.g. the excesses of IS? Surely this contravenes the free will of the perpertrators.
    2. If God has a grand plan which we cannot comprehend (e.g. His allowing suffering so that we might learn from it), how can we know if we are thwarting that plan by e.g. giving food to the starving? He cannot intervene or overrule because of our free will

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      I’m sure there are various answers by various people, all of whom find their answers satisfying to themselves!

  14. RonaldTaska  June 27, 2017

    Sunday after Sunday I have sat through prayer requests such as:
    1. God help so and so have a safe trip;
    2. God help so and so on his/her upcoming exams;
    3. God if it is your will, help so and so get well;

    and so on and so forth as if God is being given a “to do” list each Sunday. With billions of people in the world, it’s hard to imagine that someone would think he or she is receiving such important attention.

  15. lawecon  June 27, 2017

    The most straightforward answer is that no one before the infusion of Hellenistic philosophy into Judaism thought that G-d was a being of superlatives. He was vastly superior to human beings, but not all present, all knowing, all powerful, etc. He could punish but was not otherwise connected to suffering.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      As it turns out, there were gods with all teh superlatives in pagan religions as well. I talk about that in my forthcoming book. (Though their wrestlings with suffering would have been different)

      • dankoh  June 29, 2017

        I hope you are bringing in the Hittites. When the storm god hit them with hail and deluges, the Hittites knew they had had done something wrong – even if they weren’t sure what it was.

  16. doug  June 27, 2017

    “What he said was that he didn’t see why I kept throwing them [info on suffering] ‘in our face'”. Wow! I hope someone shows more compassion for him when he is going thru some horrible suffering. As you’ve noted, suffering isn’t just a concept – it is a human experience that can degenerate and destroy us.

  17. talmoore
    talmoore  June 27, 2017

    The people who personally know me know that I have spent years (decades!) studying religions — sociologically, anthropologically, philosophically, historically, etc. — and so I often get asked what religion is; that is, what is the meaning and purpose of religion? I start off with a terse definition: Religion is Institutionalized Superstition. Of course, that often raises more questions than answers in people’s minds, so I then give them a Venn diagram I created to unpack the concept of institutionalized superstition (if I have a way to give them the diagram, which, in this case, I do not, so I’ll simply describe the diagram).

    Imagine three circles, each intersecting one another and all three intersecting at one region in the middle. Each circle represents Ignorance, Anxiety and Conformity, respectively. Ignorance, of course, is simply a lack of understanding or knowledge. Ignorance of unimportant matters is itself unimportant, but ignorance of important matters is, obviously, of much importance. For instance, being ignorant about the annual rainfall of Lima, Peru is probably not that important. But being ignorant about the biological cause of polio is relatively much, much more important. One bit of ignorance is not likely to affect you, but ignorance of the other could be deadly. Anxiety is the fear and frustration we feel toward dangers and threats to our well-being. We feel anxiety not only by being in unpleasant situations but also from the anticipation of an impending unpleasantness. Where ignorance and anxiety intersect (going back to our Venn diagram) that’s where superstition resides in the human psyche. We don’t understand something, and our lack of understanding makes us fear it; therefore, we develop habits with the hope that they will alleviate our ignorance and anxiety. We find some solace in the belief that what we’re doing somehow seems to control the seemingly uncontrollable, regardless of whether it actually works or not. That’s where the “superstition” part of Institutionalized Superstition comes from.

    The third circle of Conformity comes from the simple fact that homo sapiens is a social animal. We feel compelled by our social nature to act and believe in mutual accord, and even to mutually agree to not do or believe things. For instance, there are experiments where a person simply walks onto a busy sidewalk and looks up. Everyone around that person then looks up. Why? Because that person looked up, so everyone else instinctively looked up (this example is a case where we have evolved to look for common dangers and to act as alarms and lookouts for each other). Where conformity intersects with ignorance (again, on the diagram) is where we find Gullibility (if gullibility sounds too pejorative then think Credulousness). Gullibility is our assumption that our ignorance is alleviated if we conform to a common knowledge or a common understanding. The typical everyday example of this is gossip, rumor, urban legend, old wives tales and other types of “they say…” information. “They say” that you shouldn’t swim thirty minutes after eating. Is it actually unsafe to swim right after eating? No, it’s perfectly fine to swim right after eating. That’s an example of incorrect information becoming common knowledge because we simply take everything we hear as fact, because “they say” it’s so. Where Conformity intersects with Anxiety (on the diagram), we find Mass Hysteria. A more appropriate term for Mass Hysteria might be the concept of a Moral Panic. There’s something that is causing many people to all at once become fearful and uncomfortable. A contemporary example of this Mass Hysteria is the fear of vaccinations. One parent hears from another parent that they heard that “they say” that vaccinations cause autism. Do vaccinations really cause autism? No, they don’t. But the combination of Anxiety and Conformity in the human psyche makes such fear spread through a society like a forest fire. This combination of Gullibility and Mass Hysteria makes up the institutionalizing part of “Institutionalized Superstition”.

    Now, let’s end on the final goal: the center of the diagram, where all three circles intersect and all three intersections — Superstition, Gullibility and Mass Hysteria — intersect. That’s where we find Religion. “Religion” is what happens when anxiety combines with ignorance to create superstition, and conformity combines with ignorance and anxiety to create gullibility and mass hysteria, respectively (further combining to create institutionalization), and all three — superstition, gullibility and mass hysteria — combining to create religion.

    Now, I bring all this up as a primer for what I’m about to say next. There are two ways to think about suffering: suffering is something that is inflicted on you, or it is something that you experience as a reaction to your environment. In the first sense of suffering, suffering is essentially reified. It has become a thing that is created and bestowed on a creature with a purposeful intent, like a sweater or a birthday card. In the second sense of suffering, suffering is merely a word for an abstract state of being. It has no real, metaphysical existence apart from the internal and external physical processes behind the experience. In other words, “suffering” is not a “thing” itself. It’s only a word for a particular relationship, i.e. between the suffering creature and the immediate cause of the suffering. This is an important distinction to consider when thinking about religion’s role in a society. As an Institutionalized Superstition, the primary purpose of Religion (capital R) is to reify “suffering” (as in the first sense) so as to manage the unmanageable, to control the uncontrollable, and, thus, to understand the incomprehensible, to not fear the troubling, to find comfort in the communal. Religion gives you that.

    But for those who understand suffering in the second sense, i.e. as just a catch-all word for those experiences that our mind and body is telling us to avoid and end, then Religion isn’t enough. We need real, practical solutions to end suffering. We want to educate the ignorant. We want to reassure the anxious. We want to question mindless conformity. We want to replace Religion with the opposites of superstition, gullibility, and mass hysteria — science, skepticism, and diversity of opinion. That’s the true path to ending suffering. Not religion.

    • magpie  June 28, 2017

      Excellent comment. This is the best concise explanation of religion yet! Thanks.

    • HawksJ  June 30, 2017

      Truly fantastic work! That might be the best description of religion that I’ve come across.

      Does that Venn diagram exist in the web (i.e., can you provide a link to it)?

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 30, 2017

        It does exist, but, sadly, I do not have a link. I have posted it to various science, philosophy and religion forums, however, so it does exist out there on the Interwebs to find.

    • SidDhartha1953  July 3, 2017

      Have you published any of your writings on the sociology of religion? Everyone on this blog is more or less anonymous, so I don’t know how to begin searching for your work.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  July 8, 2017

        On the sociology of religion specifically? No. My current area of research is on the evolution of morality, and so far I have only published bits and pieces, but not in any major journals. Unfortunately, I’m not attached to any institution, which gives me a great amount of indepedence and time, but it also makes it very difficult for me to get the attention of major publications — it’s not like I have a university sending me to conferences and such; I’m pretty much on my own. Moreover, being independent allows my research to straddle many disciplines. In essence, I am connecting the bio-chemical aspect of genetics, neuroscience and endocrinology with the mathematical models of game theory, decision theory and behavioral economics with the socio-psychological aspect of evolutionary psychology, sociology and anthropology. At this point it’s at the very least a ten year project, including at minimum a 1,500+ page book and a 10 hour “documentary”.

  18. RVBlake  June 27, 2017

    Catholics are told that suffering brings us “closer to Jesus.” The next time I hear this I’m going to ask how this applies to an infant.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  June 28, 2017

      Yes, ask them how it applies to the one-year old in the link I provided on this post. Or the ten-year old mentioned in the article too.

  19. Foxtank  June 27, 2017

    To quote Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create the darkness, I make well-being and create woe, I, the Lord, do all these things.” This from the Catholic Study Bible. Some other sources use “evil” in place of “woe”. This is explained as permitting evil for the sake of the greater good. This is a difficult premise to put your mind around, if you are a human being. But if you accept the source(OT), then it is plain to see whence comes darkness.

    • Hormiga  June 29, 2017

      > “I form the light, and create the darkness, I make well-being and create woe, I, the Lord, do all these things.””

      Could we get a comment on whether “woe” adequately translates רַע in the context it occurs in Isaiah 45.7?

      • johnlein  July 3, 2017

        “Ra” is the basic Hebrew for “evil.” It’s not an ambiguous word. It’s one of the early ones I learned in Biblical Hebrew. The more literal translations all speak of God creating or preparing evil in this verse. It was troubling enough to some early Jewish Rabbis that they deliberately changed it in their liturgies and prayer books to “everything” rather than “evil”, but that’s not supported by the language. Hence there is the text, and there is what we do with the text. That’s the response from a first-year seminary student with one year of Hebrew down at least. 🙂

  20. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  June 27, 2017

    “When I dance my feet float like feathers from the breath of zeus “

  21. bcdwa288  June 27, 2017

    I would say that the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Geneses have had more impact, for the fundamentalist evangelical, on Christianity than any other part of the Bible. They are the foundation of the idea of the need for atonement and redemption which in turn is the cornerstone of Christianity. The Fall of Man provides the perfect answer to the question of why is there suffering. God imposed on Adam and Eve and all their descendants (us) all the suffering we bear and observe as punishment for eating “of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.
    Christianity preaches that people should spend their lives studying what is right and what is wrong, learning the difference between good and evil, doing the right and avoiding doing the wrong, but all human suffering, in all its forms, in the world, is punishment of Adam and Eve and their decedents imposed by God in the Garden of Eden because they disobeyed Him and ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Surely the cosmic catch-22 between these claims is obvious. We must know right from wrong, do the right and not do the wrong but we are dammed because our ancestor discovered the difference between the two. Go figure!!

  22. dragonfly  June 27, 2017

    I think all answers to how there can be an all-powerful, all-loving God when there is so much suffering are Talmoore’s epicycles – attempts at explanations to allow ourselves to continue to believe something that was never true in the first place.

    Shit happens.

  23. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 28, 2017

    We’re the only answer to ending suffering. According to National Geographic’s “Year Million” it’s possible. That gives me hope. What bothers me are those who do not see there’s a problem, not to mention those who inflict it. A story just came out today that’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard of. The only *good* I see from it is that several commenters are questioning their faith over it. Others have stated that God is going to bring wrath to mankind. I kmow they probably can’t help but think as such, but it does grow tiresome listening to it after a while.
    Here’s the link to story–
    https://www.google.com/amp/nypost.com/2017/06/27/isis-tricks-starving-yazidi-sex-slave-to-eat-her-young-son/amp/

    • dragonfly  June 29, 2017

      I believe Satan is on welfare benefits now that his job has been made obsolete.

  24. Saemund  June 28, 2017

    I have a question which is irrelevant to this post. What did theopneustos mean when originally used in 2 Tim. 3.16? Did it mean literal inspiration that every word came from God? Did it mean that the overall message came from God? Did it mean that God made these authors somehow smarter, wiser? Or did it mean something else entirely? Also, did this inspiration, however it was defined, allow for any kind of mistakes in the scriptures?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      The word itself was invented by the author, and it liteally means something like “god-breathed.” The only way to figure out what he actually *meant* by that is by … interpreting what he meant. There’s no other way. That’s why it can be debated.

  25. cjeanne  June 28, 2017

    Bart…I told you this once before at a book signing. Your book…”God’s Problem changed my life. I found it shortly after my perfectly healthy husband contacted terminal cancer. It was far more comforting than any of the easy answers and believe me, there were many, It also led me to much research about faith and lack thereof and throwing off those shackles has given me a new way of looking at life…..and the truth shall make you free. Wheaton ’63

  26. Robert  June 29, 2017

    “… one of the top experts in the New Testament in the world.  This scholar is … very comfortable among progressive evangelicals. … This other scholar looks at the Bible from a different angle.  Instead of diversity he sees unity. … he sees unity … none of [All these things] was at odds with the other, and that one needs to see the broad sweep of God’s Great Design for the salvation of the world behind it all.  If one sees what God is achieving in the world, it all make ssense.”

    This proponent of biblical theology is obviously not a great scholar. He may have read the work of many others, but he has not yet acquired even a most basic and fundamental appreciation of critical method. Better to debate true scholars in my opinion.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 30, 2017

      Oh no, he is a bona fide scholar who is a true expert in critical method. He just *also* has a rather large vision.

      • Robert  June 30, 2017

        Biblical theology is not critical method. If you are correctly representing his views, and he cannot acknowledge genuine diversity of viewpoints, even contradictory ones, among the various biblical authors, he is not a very good practitioner if critical method.

  27. Tempo1936  June 30, 2017

    All the views on suffering in the Bible are true in this diverse , complex world, again proving the Bible is true.

    • godspell  June 30, 2017

      ” First off, it’s not my logic, Steve, it’s God’s logic as written in the Bible, every word of which is true. And we know every word is true because the Bible says that the Bible is true, and, if you remember from earlier in this sentence: every word of the Bible is true. Now, are you following me here, or are you some kind of mindless zealot?”

      From an interview on The Colbert Report.

      And for the record, Mr. Colbert remains a practicing Catholic.

      Well, we could all use some practice.

      😉

  28. SidDhartha1953  July 3, 2017

    There seems to be a bug in your blog. Several times, for how long I don’t know — it’s been more than a few weeks — I’ll be logged in and try to post a comment. I get a message that I must be logged in to post. Usually logging out and logging in again solves the problem. This morning I tried that and got the message I was denied access because of a security breach. I closed the browser tab, did a search for your blog (instead of finding a link in my browser history) and things seem fine now (I hope, we’ll know for sure when I click “add comment”). I hope it’ nothing serious. That might add to our collective suffering!

  29. SidDhartha1953  July 3, 2017

    Bart,
    This post has unleashed a storm of emotion I don’t recall witnessing before on your blog! Do you think it is because suffering strikes at the heart of what we all want to believe — that the universe must, at some point, be just? Even as great a thinker as Dr. King subscribed to the assumption that “the moral arc of the universe … bends toward justice.” Would you agree or disagree that the problem of suffering is only a problem for beings who can think about suffering as a category (hopefully only humans — I’d hate to think that an insect being eaten alive from the inside by larvae hatched from eggs that were implanted under its exoskeleton by another insect that reproduces that way, can actually reflect on what is happening to it and ask, Why?)?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      I”m not sure how to explain it — but something is getting under some skin! It’s an emotional issue, I suppose.

  30. Texaggie79  July 3, 2017

    Suffering is an experience. Something that in the vast majority of the human psyche is looked upon as a bad thing.
    When extracted out from the temporal world how would an eternal being see temporary suffering? Would it be similar to how humans view temporary suffering with no adverse long term affects? Why do people seek out things such as body piercings that can sometimes bring intense pain? Horror movies and attraction that make them temporarily terrified? We humans have been known to willingly participate in things that bring about great distress and even pain so long as we know that it’s temporary. How would it be any different for an eternal being looking at experiencing something in this temporary plane of existence?

    Of course all that is thrown out of the window if you add on the notion of eternal suffering where after the temporary suffering the eternal being is sent to suffer for all of eternity. That’s not something congruent with a “loving creator”.

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