Tuesday, August 5, 2008

God's Problem and Bart Ehrman's

I recently finished Bart Ehrman's God's Problem, about which I'll offer only a few comments since the internets already offer an abundance of reviews and background, including a debate between Ehrman and N.T. Wright, an interview on Fresh Air, a New Yorker review that I previously disparaged, and so on.

Ehrman hews closely to the terms of the subtitle ("How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer"): the book is about how the Bible addresses theodicy, not an attempt at an exhaustive examination. This is both a strength and a weakness. Ehrman shows a deep mastery of the Biblical texts -- his citations of the New Testament are his own translations -- so this is an excellent resource for people approaching the question from a broadly Judeo-Christian perspective. As such it is more a work of philology and exegesis than of philosophy or ethics. For people who don't consider the Bible especially important -- Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, pantheists, nonbelievers, others -- it can be a rather slow crawl through some rather narrow lore.

The focus on what the Bible says about theodicy leaves questions begged: for example, the apocalyptic tradition epitomized by the Revelation of John portrays the world as the setting of a struggle between godly good forces and demonic evil forces, and therefore suggests that evil exists because the demonic forces have the upper hand here on earth. But why is evil an available option in the first place -- why are the demons evil, and beyond that, why does the all-powerful and benevolent god allow them to bring their evil to earth? As the Revelation of John is somewhere between vague to non-responsive on these questions, so is Ehrman's book.

Ehrman agrees with the conclusion (as he sees and expatiates it) of the author of Ecclesiastes: namely, we simply don't know why evil exists or how it squares with an omniscient, omnibenevolent god. He makes a good case that this is indeed the least nonsensical answer the Bible gives on the matter, such as it is.

His avowed agnosticism seems genuine -- he comes across as sincerely pained over theodicy, whereas the problem vanishes the closer one approaches to nonbelief. The atheistic view has no powerful, loving god in need of reconciling with the staggering measure of suffering we see around us.

1 comment:

nazir_bht@yahoo.com said...

your comment that other communities like Muslims; hindus; bhudists; do not consider bible important is not genuine comment if not treated unture. for the part of muslims let me clear it to you that all holy books pertaining to jews and christains are held with reverence.Not only this but also the prophets of christains and jews. It is rather condition precedent for muslim that to be true muslim he/she must have faith and respect for the prophets and holy books of christains and jews.yet; holy quran holds that such books were self improved and amended by earlier jews and christains as such various texts of such books carry contradictions inter -see.regarding the athiest question as to why bible does not return answer for the cause of sufferings humans generally suffer from looks somewhat irrelevant; as Godly answer whether logical or not can not be given to those who do not believe in God as such opportunity or cause for question does not arise.. However;an athiest may breed his/her own human world away from the horror of God; and any suffering to such human world he/she has to explain precisely in terms of same mathematical attitude as is being posed to bible: why sufferings?thanks