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Dr. Brown Debates: The Problem of Suffering

The Line of Fire / Dr. Michael Brown
The Truth Network Radio
December 20, 2021 4:50 pm

Dr. Brown Debates: The Problem of Suffering

The Line of Fire / Dr. Michael Brown

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December 20, 2021 4:50 pm

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The following is a prerecorded program. That's 866-34-TRUTH. Here again is Dr. Michael Brown.

Oh, it was back in 2009, early 2010. I just had this sense one day that I was going to debate Professor Bart Ehrman. And it was a little odd because he's a New Testament specialist and I'm not in terms of scholarship.

But I thought I just had this sense and then right afterwards I got contacted by a law professor at Ohio State, a Messianic Jewish leader, Elliot Klayman. They said, would you like to debate Dr. Bart Ehrman? So this was our debate.

He wrote a book about it. And I said, well, let's pursue this. Let's focus on the problem of suffering. Does the Bible provide an adequate answer to the problem of suffering? So we're going to play now for the rest of the broadcast excerpts from my opening comments, my opening statement in this debate from April of 2010. When I was asked about debating Professor Ehrman, I suggested we focus on the topic of his book, God's Problem, because the question of suffering is something that touches every single one of us.

So this is not just abstract theory. When the Twin Towers went down, 9-11, my wife lost her only brother, who in turn left behind his wife and their precious two little children. Not long after that, Nancy's dad died of extremely degenerated condition of Alzheimer's. Then shortly after that, her stepfather died of cancer.

Then shortly after that, her only brother-in-law died of cancer at the age of 51. And during this time, she had a severe back condition. It was so debilitating, sometimes I'd find her laying face down on the ground in agony.

She couldn't move. But she would be the first to tell you that what she has suffered is absolutely minor compared to suffering people in this world. In fact, many an hour we've talked about the problem of suffering, and in fact, many a night she cries herself to sleep over the pain of the human race. I've been overseas more than 100 times, so I've seen deformed children begging on the streets. I've seen families living in absolute squalor, destitute. Grads from our ministry school have worked, some working right now, leper colonies in China building housing for war orphans in Africa, working with the poorest of the poorest serving them in the Philippines, living in garbage dumps, and on and on. So suffering is here, it's all around us, and sometimes it seems completely random. Sometimes it seems absolutely devoid of any good purpose. And to be perfectly honest, one small child dying of leukemia raises more theological problems than all of our debates.

Just last month, one of our grads emailed me. He found his suicidal father dying. He slit his wrists, slit his throat, had a knife plunged into his heart, left behind a mentally ill wife. So what do we say when we're confronted with this kind of suffering? What you might not know is that these very issues are raised in the Bible, and the biblical authors bring some of the strongest challenges to God you can find anywhere. Job is considered a hero of the faith, and yet he accuses God in terms that would make Richard Dawkins proud.

I mean, he paints God as being a cruel monster who assaults him and looks the other way when innocent people suffer and looks the other way when wicked people prosper. Here, how about this verse? From the Bible, I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people. An atheist couldn't have said it better. And I remind you, this is recorded in the Bible.

One Old Testament scholar said it's almost like this. God says if you want to complain, we have some forms already filled out with all the words written for you. But the Bible also provides an adequate answer to the problem of suffering. In fact, it provides numerous answers that are harmonious to the problem of suffering. If you follow the path that Barth lays out in this book, a path that can no longer believe in God and his goodness, and I don't reproach Barth for losing his faith, but if you follow this path, then you lose the very source of hope and purpose and meaning, and you trade in the fountain of life for an empty well. Rather than identifying God's problem, Barth no longer has hope in the solution to the problem, namely a loving Heavenly Father who is the answer to present pain and the author of future hope and a compassionate Savior who suffers and dies on our behalf. Remove God and we really have a problem, our problem. Remove him and all is lost. In fact, if you remove God from the picture, there's really no problem of suffering and evil.

A spider kills a fly, a lion kills a zebra, a mugger kills his victim. That's what the unguided products of random evolution do. This is just survival of the fittest. I mean, why doesn't might make right after all? But if you have a sense that there's purpose and meaning and morality to life, then you recognize that suffering and evil really do present a problem. So how do the Scriptures address this problem? How can a loving God allow so much evil and pain? I mean, how can there be a good God in such a messed up world? Doesn't in some way the ultimate responsibility lie in God?

Isn't it the author of it ultimately? First thing, the Bible doesn't always tell us what we want to know, but it tells us what we need to know, much like a doctor who may not tell you why you're sick but can tell you how to get healthy and stay healthy. And rather than fully explaining to us why there's so much suffering and evil in the world, the Bible tells us that we are quite right in protesting that something's wrong. God himself agrees with that assessment. We weren't designed for death, decay, destruction.

We were designed for life. And that's why we're so repulsed by the presence of wanton suffering in the world. As to why God even created the human race, the Bible makes clear that he wanted to have an extended family. People who can enjoy his goodness forever.

People who he could love and who would love him, but our love for God must be chosen and not coerced. And so love requires freedom. Freedom has consequences and the choices every generation has made, including ours, have had disastrous effects bringing destruction on our race and a curse on our planet. By the way, from a biblical perspective, we're intimately related to our planet and our sin against God affects the earth as well. And so we're in a fallen, broken world. This is what the Bible tells us. One that's both cursed and blessed, one with both cruelty and love, tsunamis and sunshine, a world of contradictions, a world that reflects the contradiction of our own nature, created in the image of God, and yet fallen.

As the scripture says, God made men and women true and upright. We're the ones who've made a mess of things. This describes the schizophrenia of the human race. We are capable of incredible good and extraordinary wickedness.

And sometimes we find both extremes inside our own hearts. So why did God give us a free will? In the words of C.S. Lewis, try to exclude the possibility of suffering, which the order of nature and the existence of free will is involved, and you find that you have excluded life itself. Free will, he writes, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

A world of automata, of creatures that work like machines, would hardly be worth creating. Now, the free will answer does not solve all the problems, but it is one part of the problem and one part of the answer. You might say, look, I didn't ask for this.

I didn't ask to be put here. But the fact is, the thing you prize the most is your existence, and the next thing you prize the most is your freedom. That's why so few people actually take their lives, and that's why people fight so zealously for their freedom. But our life and freedom are gifts with consequences, and when we realize how much evil there is in the world, how many child molesters and murderers, vicious, cruel people there are, not to mention how many ugly things we ourselves sometimes think and do, it's amazing that we can even enjoy a beautiful sunset or experience years of good health or have so much fun with our friends. If anything, God is being amazingly merciful, not judgmental towards us.

But there's much more to the story. According to the scriptures, we're in a transition age now, a war zone of sorts, and that's another reason why so many things seem to be out of order and wrong. In fact, that's why Jesus taught his followers to pray, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, meaning that God's perfect kingdom is not yet totally here, and his perfect will is not yet being fully carried out. What we pray for and long for and work for is that perfect age to come, God's kingdom right here on a renewed earth where there'll be no sickness, pain, injustice, evil, or death, and where we'll experience life to the full. In fact, someone has suggested that rather than thinking of the world to come as the afterlife, we should think of this present world as the before life, or as some call it, the shadow lands, and the world to come as the time when we really experience the fullness of life. In the words of the ancient rabbis, this world is the vestibule to the world to come, and I remind you that the world to come lasts forever. I think most of us are working to make this world a better place, certainly hope so, but trying to improve the world is not enough. In fact, it seems the more civilized we become, the more people we kill, with the 20th century being the bloodiest by far. Instead, God's plan is to usher in a massively better world, a world of wonders beyond the wildest dreams, a world filled with the beauty and knowledge of God.

This is not a myth, this is reality, friends. Right now, in this transition age, there is much evil and suffering. The Bible likens it to giving birth. The whole world is in the pains of childbirth, with all creation groaning for the end of suffering and death. A better world is at hand, but it will be birthed out of this present decaying world as we work together with God. That's why what happens in this world matters deeply. After all, this is where we live, this is where we experience the ups and downs of life, but this is only the beginning, not the end of the story. And during our journey through these shadow lands, God is at work in the midst of our suffering. Even when people do evil things against his will, things that he himself hates, he can turn those things for greater good, take them and use them for greater good, all while shaping and developing us. You can almost think of this present life as our time inside the womb and the world to come as life inside the womb.

It's hard to figure and imagine from here, but we were once in the womb, which is hard for us to believe, but it happened, all of us. Of course, if you take away the reality of the world to come, suffering becomes all the more meaningless, life all the more purposeless. If there's no world to come, some will never be rewarded for their sacrifices, others will never be punished for their wickedness. The scales of justice will never be set right, all the dreams in your heart will end there just like that, dreams.

We'll never be able to finish what we start. If there's a world to come, then our lives are only chapters in a great big book, a book with an ending that's almost too good to be true. But it is true, because God is good and God is love, and ultimately meaning will emerge from the seeming chaos and uncertainty of life. Good will drive out evil, and life will drive out hate.

Love will drive out hate. There's more though that the scriptures tell us about suffering, and the Bible doesn't offer just one answer to suffering and pain, because suffering and pain are not monolithic, so the Bible provides many different answers to the full range of human pain. So let me give you four basic answers from scripture in terms of the problem of suffering. Number one, there can be a redemptive side to suffering. The world is filled with death and evil, but God can bring life out of death and good out of evil. Sometimes what appears to be the worst thing that ever happened to you can prove to be the best thing that ever happened to you.

A college professor once told her students to write down on a piece of paper the ten worst things that ever happened to them, then flip it over and write down the ten best things that ever happened, and some items appeared on both sides. God is the great redeemer. When we see God and recognize who he really is, we don't need answers to our questions. He himself is enough, and we have confidence and hope. He's the living God. That's why his people have been able to look death in the face without backing down, overcome almost unimaginable obstacles, and bring hope and healing into some of the darkest places on the earth.

And so, as a biblical scholar and as someone not exempt from the pain of this world, I join my voice with hundreds of millions of people around the world, both past and present, and say clearly the Bible absolutely provides an adequate answer to the problem of suffering. Thank you. Okay, I've got to jump in now. On the other side of the break, you will get to hear the comments of agnostic New Testament professor, Bart Berman. It's the line of fire with your host, Dr. Michael Brown. Get into the line of fire now by calling 866-34-TRUTH. Here again is Dr. Michael Brown. Thanks for joining us today on the line of fire.

This is Michael Brown. We're taking you into a debate from April of 2010 with New Testament professor and well-known agnostic, Professor Bart Berman. The question, does the Bible provide an adequate answer to the problem of suffering? Hear now lengthy excerpts from his opening comments.

I'm very happy to be with you tonight. When I started out studying this problem of suffering, I had very much the view that Michael has portrayed for you just now, that the Bible has a consistent set of answers, and that God, in fact, is not to be blamed for suffering, that in the end, everything is going to work out. This was my view when I was a late teenager. As somebody growing up, I had been a church person. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and when I was in high school, I had a born-again experience and became a committed evangelical Christian. I went off to Moody Bible Institute, where I did my college work, which is a very conservative evangelical school. I went from Moody Bible Institute, where I majored in Bible and theology, to Wheaton College, an evangelical college, where I did my degree. I went from there to Princeton Theological Seminary, where I studied for the ministry.

I had very solid credentials in the Christian faith. While I was at Princeton Theological Seminary, studying to do my Ph.D. in New Testament, I started teaching at Rutgers University, and at Rutgers, one semester, I was asked by my chair of my department to teach a course called The Problem of Suffering in the Biblical Traditions. This was to be a course that looked at what different biblical authors had to say about suffering, and I thought it would be an interesting course, in part because I had grown convinced over the years that, in fact, different biblical authors had different views of why they're suffering, and these different views, in fact, are not harmonious the way Michael has laid it out for us, that, in fact, there are discrepancies among these views. Some of these views contradict one another. These authors didn't see eye to eye, and a number of these solutions, in my opinion then, and my opinion now, simply are not acceptable to us as modern people. Are any of the biblical solutions adequate for why there is suffering?

Well, that was a question that I started asking myself when I was teaching the class over 20 years ago now, and it's a question I continue to ask myself. My view is that there are a lot of different answers to suffering in the Bible, and that many of them, in fact, cannot be accepted as satisfactory. Let me give you a few. Michael has given us some, and we will certainly have some debates over how one should interpret the book of Job, for example, and whether there is consistency in the biblical account of why they're suffering. I want to start not with the book of Job, I want to start with one of the prophets. Michael is an expert on the prophets.

He's just written a major commentary on the prophet Jeremiah, but I'm going to turn to the prophet Amos. Amos chapter 3, where Amos the prophet is telling the people of Israel why it is they are going to suffer a military defeat. They're going to suffer a military defeat because God is going to punish them for not observing His will and doing His ways. As Amos says, they do not know how to do right, says the Lord, those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds. Therefore, thus says the Lord God, an adversary shall surround the land and strip you of your defense, and your strongholds shall be plundered. You are going to be wiped out as a punishment for not worshipping God properly. Now you think, well, that may be just, you know, on occasion God does that sort of thing.

Well, according to Amos, in fact, He does it a lot. Chapter 4, God tells the people of Israel, I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places. In other words, cleanness of teeth doesn't mean He provided toothpaste for them. It means they had nothing to eat. God brought a famine.

Yet you did not return to Me, says the Lord. In other words, He created a famine to starve people so that they would repent and turn back to Him. I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to harvest. Two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water and were not satisfied. He brought a drought.

People had nothing to drink. And yet you did not return to Me, says the Lord. I struck you with blight and mildew. I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards.

The locusts devoured your fig trees and your olive trees. Yet you did not return to Me, says the Lord. Who is causing the suffering?

God is causing the suffering as a punishment for sin. I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword.

This is God speaking. I killed your young men with the sword. I carried away with your horses and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils. Yet you did not return to Me, says the Lord. I overthrew some of you as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet you did not return to Me, says the Lord. Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel. Because I will do this to you, O Israel, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.

Meeting God in this context is not a good thing. You thought it was bad so far. I starved you. I gave you no water. I brought pestilence. I killed your children.

Now look out for what I'm going to do. Who brings suffering according to the book of Amos? God brings suffering according to the book of Amos.

And Amos is not alone in this. This is the message of all of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Read them all for yourself and see.

It doesn't matter which ones you read. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, read them all. Line after line, page after page, suffering comes upon the people of God because God is punishing them for their sins. Do we want to extrapolate from that a lesson about why there's suffering in the world? Is this an adequate solution to why there's an earthquake in Haiti that kills 300,000 people because God's angry at them and He wants them to repent? And there are other solutions in the Bible. Solutions, for example, that you find in the book of Daniel or in the book of Revelation in the New Testament.

Solutions that indicate that, in fact, God is not causing this problem to people. God isn't causing the problem to people. He's not punishing them. He's not testing them.

He's not doing it for some unknown reason that you can't ask about. And it's not people doing it to one another. According to the book of Revelation and the book of Daniel, what's happening is there are evil forces out there in the world. There are evil forces, the devil and demons and powers and principalities that are against people and it's the forces of evil that are doing things. But God is going to intervene eventually and overthrow the forces of evil and set up a good kingdom here on earth.

In other words, things might be rotten now, but they're going to be fine later if you just hold on for a while. Revelation thought that this was going to happen very soon. One of the key points of the book of Revelation is that if you hold on for a little while longer, God will intervene. This is the view of a lot of the writers of the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark says, some of you standing here, Jesus talking to the disciples, won't taste death before they see the kingdom of God has come in power. This generation will not pass away before all these things place.

This will happen very soon, but it doesn't happen soon. And year goes by after year and decade after decade and century after century, and is this really a valid hope that the kingdom of God is going to come sometime next week? These are the solutions I dealt with in my class at Rutgers University. When I finished the class, I thought maybe I should write something about that, about the problem of suffering and what the different biblical authors said. Well, I decided, I was 30 years old at the time, I said, you don't know enough to write a book about suffering. So about 20 years later, a couple of years ago, I thought maybe I'll write that book about suffering. Then I thought, no, you don't know enough to write a book about suffering. So then I realized when I'm 89, I'm going to say, you're not old enough to write a book about suffering.

So I went ahead and wrote the book. In these intervening years, between the time I taught the course at Rutgers and today, some 20 years later, I kept experiencing a lot of the world. As you all have, those of you who are beyond 20 years of age. Cancer, taking away loved ones in the prime of life, teenage suicide, birth defects, failed marriages. I have a friend who escaped the killing fields of Cambodia.

I've encountered homelessness, poverty, starvation, and I've done a lot of reading, as you have. Wars, genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur. A flu epidemic in 1918 that killed 30 million people around the world.

Flu killed far more Americans than all the wars of the 20th century combined, the 1918 influenza. World poverty and starvation. I came to a point where none of the biblical answers or traditional answers were satisfying to me. The Bible has an overarching view about God's interaction with the world, which is that God intervenes for his people. In the Hebrew Bible, the main point is that when the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, God intervened and did something about it.

He saved them from their slavery. The main point of the New Testament is that Christ came into the world in order to intervene so that people would be saved from their sins. The Bible is all about God intervening.

If God intervenes, why doesn't he? Why do we live in a world in which every five seconds a child dies of starvation? Every five seconds.

That's 12 a minute. The time I have given the speech, we have had something like 300 children die of starvation in the world. Every minute in our world, 25 people die from diseases from unclean water. Every hour, 300 people die of malaria.

Every hour, 300 people. If God intervenes, why doesn't he intervene? We have the Holocaust, we have genocides, we have terrorist attacks, starvation, poverty, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes. If God intervenes, why doesn't he intervene? Yes, this is why I left the Christian faith eventually, about which I'll be saying a few things in a few moments. Because I don't think leaving the faith leaves a person hopeless. I think it leaves a person with a realistic sense of why they're suffering in the world. It's not because God's causing it. He's not punishing you.

He is not testing you. There are other reasons for suffering that we'll be exploring. Thank you very much. All right, got to jump in. We come back. We're going to take you into my response, my rebuttal to Professor Erman.

Don't go anywhere. Thanks for joining us on the special broadcast to Dandelion of Fire, getting back into some of the most important debates that I've had over the years, this one with Professor Bart Erman, does the Bible provide an adequate answer to the problem of suffering? If you've been listening to the whole broadcast, you've heard our excerpts, lengthy excerpts from our opening statements. Now you're going to hear excerpts from our rebuttals.

It will first be me, then after that Professor Erman, and then in the final segment, we'll give you our closing statements. And I want to assure you, every single one of you listening, watching, the Bible, God's word, absolutely gives us adequate answers to the problem of suffering. Above all, it brings us into an encounter with the one and only one who can cure the problems of this world and the problems of our own souls. You know, the question as to whether the Bible provides an adequate answer for suffering is ultimately subjective.

And the fact is around the world right now, most of the people in the world do not know this debate's going on. They've never heard of Michael Brown or Bart Erman, but they're turning to the Scriptures for answers because God is intervening in lives all over the place. That's why many of us are here. He intervened in my life when I was a heroin shooting rebellious teenage rock drummer who went to a church to pull my two best friends out of it. And contrary to my esteemed colleague here, I never studied in a seminary or Bible school. I studied only with secular professors and not one of them ever agreed with my position, so I had my faith challenge from day one.

It's because I've seen the reality of God and people around the world can attest to it that we say absolutely there are answers. You know, it reminds me of you tell a joke, the whole room is laughing and one person's not laughing. It's not because the joke's not good.

They didn't get the joke. So I'm not going to dismiss the answers if some have not found them adequate. I understand that. I'm sympathetic to it.

These pain issues are very real. But I'm not going to dismiss the answers that have been satisfactory to hundreds of millions of people who've gone through hell. Look at this.

Listen to this. It was Viktor Frankl said this, Auschwitz survivor. The truth is that among those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number whose religious life was deepened, in spite not to say because of this experience, far exceeds the number of those who gave up their belief.

Janet Willis and her husband Scott lost their six youngest children in a freak accident because of some illegal driver. She said, 14 years later, today I have a far greater understanding of the goodness of God than I did before the accident. I turned to God for strength because I had no strength.

I learned about him. He made sense when nothing else made sense. If it weren't for the Lord, I would have lost my sanity. What would my dear friend Bart say to her?

I feel as if Bart takes the watch apart and then says, it doesn't work. And I personally find offensive the idea that God's answers must be acceptable to us, lofty, holy humanity. Most starvation around the earth is because we are not caring sufficiently for starving people. We could feed 80 million people a day just by the food we overeat here in America.

If we cared enough about the people in Haiti, we would not have let the buildings be so substandard so that 75% of them could have been saved if we had not been so negligent and selfish. In fact, I will strenuously argue with Bart's conclusion that narcissism on a certain level is the answer. That doesn't touch the great majority of people suffering around the world who will never have a glass of fine wine and never have a nice steak, but God's word has answers for those very people. Well, excuse me, but if we're talking about who allows what, God's speaking to us. Let me point out that thousands of children are dying every minute in our world of preventable diseases that you have the means, but obviously not the will to stop.

How can you allow that? There are millions in your world who are slowly dying of starvation while some of you are killing yourselves with gluttony. How can you allow such suffering to go on? You seem comfortable enough knowing that millions of you have less per day to live on than others spend on a cup of coffee while a few of you have more individual wealth than whole countries. How can you allow such obscene evil and call it an economic system? There are more people in slavery now than in the worst day of the pre-abolition slave trade. How can you allow that? There are millions upon millions of people living as refugees on the knife end of human existence because of interminable wars that you indulge in out of selfishness, greed, ambition, and lying hypocrisy. And you not only allow this, but collude in it, fuel it, and profit from it, including many of you who claim most loudly that you believe in me.

Did one of your own singers put it like this before you accused me? Take a look at yourself. I think we should be deeply awed by God's mercy, the fact that we can enjoy health and life and friendship and goodness in the midst of so much sin. A wonderful university like this, how much porno was downloaded in the last 24 hours?

How many men here committed adultery in their hearts while walking through the campus? How much selfishness? If I'm going to be told that the solution is enjoy life, drink nice, fine wine, drive good cars, that's obscene to people dying of starvation.

That's obscene to people that will never even have a dessert in their lives. And in point of fact, the more I cater to a narcissistic solution, the less I can do about suffering people. Rather, if we're going to acknowledge the problem, then let us give ourselves to be solutions to the problem.

And here's the amazing thing. When the dust settles and most of us go on with our normal lives, who are the ones that are going to be working among the people in Haiti? The great majority will be people of faith because they are willing to make a sacrifice because they've encountered God in His goodness, having received mercy, they're willing to be the objects, vessels of mercy, having been forgiven, they want to bring forgiveness to the ends of the earth. And it's quite interesting that the strongest churches in the world and most people coming to faith around the world are coming in the midst of suffering, in the midst of poverty. Here we point to Haiti. I hope all of you have been involved in doing something to help people suffering in Haiti.

We have friends that have labored there for decades. But in point of fact, the majority of Haitians have experienced a spiritual revival and a turning to God rather than a cursing of God. How perverse that I lose faith over suffering of another person when it drove that person to God. So let me say again, you take God out of the picture and what do we have? You take God out of the picture and you might just be hit by a lightning bolt tomorrow and it's all over.

You might be the victim of some drunk driver and it's all over. When you take the world to come out of the picture, this is it. This is it, dog eat dog world. So enjoy yourself when you come. I can't imagine substituting that for the wisdom of God's word and the beauty of God's word. I don't have time to get into every point that was mentioned, but I assure you if we have the time, I can give a clear answer without any type of sleight of hand and show you how the biblical answers are harmonious, how they provide a beautiful symphony, and ultimately, you look at the cross, you look at the suffering of Jesus, and you know that's not an angry, mean spirit of God who's out to destroy us.

That's a God who says, come to me and find rest and life. Thank you. Michael has repeatedly said that he finds my views obscene.

I am going to end tonight saying that we should live life well. One shouldn't go on about somebody else's views if one shares them. If you're concerned that starving people have nothing to eat and you eat, should you condemn people who want to live well if you live well? I find it obscene that Job was given 10 children back. Oh yeah, instead of the 4,000 camels, he got 8,000, but he only got the 10 children because you can't replace children like camels. No, you get the children back one at a time.

Seven sons, three daughters, that makes up for it. How do we get from that to the Holocaust? By innocent suffering.

People who don't deserve to suffer, suffer. This is an enormous problem and the Bible does not give a good answer to it. Some of the authors of the Bible think that in fact the reason things are going the way they're going is because people who are righteous are being rewarded by God and people who are unrighteous are being punished by God. This is a consistent motif throughout the Bible. One thing that Michael and I fundamentally disagree on is whether the Bible gives us a consistent and harmonious picture of suffering. And in fact, all you need to do is read the Bible for yourself.

Read different portions of the Bible and ask yourself, is this harmonious? The book of Proverbs, chapter 10, verse 3, The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. Oh yeah, the righteous don't starve. Proverbs 12, 21, No harm happens to the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble. Proverbs 13, 21, Misfortune pursues sinners, but prosperity rewards the righteous. That's the teaching of the Bible.

Or is it? The book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 7, verse 15, says just the opposite. In my vain life, I have seen everything. There are righteous people who perish in their righteousness and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evil doing. Just the opposite of Proverbs. Or Ecclesiastes 8, 14, There are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked. And there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous.

And I said, this is vanity. Yes, indeed it is. When you say the Bible teaches something, you have to indicate what part of the Bible you're talking about because different parts of the Bible teach different things. There is not a unified teaching about suffering or about anything in the Bible.

The Bible is a collection of books written by a group of authors living at different times writing in different places using different languages with different messages. It is not a unified whole. The prophets, all of them, want to insist that the reason the children of Israel suffer is because God is punishing them. Job wants to insist that in fact it's the innocent who suffer. Well, which is it? The innocent or the guilty?

It depends which you read. I do not believe that Job would say, as Michael claims, that it was worth it. It was worth losing my 10 children so I could pass a test? It was worth God allowing my 10 children to be killed so that he could prove that I won't curse him? It was worth it?

I don't think it was worth it. I take most offense at what Michael says when he says repeatedly that if you remove God from the equation, you remove all hope and all meaning. I find this personally offensive because I no longer believe in God and Michael is telling me that I have no hope and I have no meaning.

And how would he know? You mean only people who agree with you can have hope and meaning? Only people who have a certain view of God can have hope and meaning? Meaning resides in your particular theological point of view?

I don't believe it for a second. And in fact, I can tell you that now as an agnostic, I actually find life to be far more meaningful than I ever did because I no longer think that it's all going to be resolved in the by and by. I'm concerned about life here and now for how we live, what we do for one another, how we serve one another, and how we exist together as human beings. Thank you. All right. We're out of time. We come back. We're going to play in full the closing statements. First, Professor Ehrman, and then from me. Joining us today on the Line of Fire, we're taking you into a debate from April 15th, 2010 at Ohio State University, packed out auditorium as Professor Bart Ehrman and I debated the Bible and the problem of suffering. Now, our closing statements.

First, Professor Ehrman, and then me. In the Bible, there are different solutions for why they're suffering. Some of these explanations contradict others. Is it because God is punishing people for their sins? That's what the prophets of the Hebrew Bible maintain. But I refuse to think that birth defects, massive starvation, flu epidemics, Alzheimer's disease, and genocides are given by God to make people repent or to teach them a lesson. Other writers and the prophets themselves want to maintain that some suffering is caused because people have the free will to hurt, maim, torture, and kill others.

And that's certainly true. But why would God allow human-caused evil in some instances and not others? If he could do miracles for his people throughout the Bible, where is he today when your son is killed in a car accident? Or when your husband gets multiple sclerosis? Or civil wars unleashed in Iraq?

Or when the Iranians decide to pursue their nuclear ambitions? Some authors of the Bible believe that suffering was ultimately redemptive. And it's true that there can often be a silver lining in the hardships we encounter. But I just don't see anything redemptive when Ethiopian babies die of malnutrition or when thousands of people die today and yesterday and the day before of malaria.

Or when your entire family is brutalized by a drug-crazed gang that breaks in during the middle of the night. Some authors thought of suffering as a test of faith. But I refuse to believe that God murdered or allowed the Satan to murder Job's 10 children in order to see if he would curse him or not. If someone killed your 10 children, wouldn't you have the right to curse him? And to think that God would make up for it to Job by giving him an additional 10 children afterwards is obscene.

Some authors, such as the one who wrote the powerful poetic dialogues of Job, maintain that suffering is a mystery. I resonate with this view, but I don't think highly of its corollary, that we have no right to ask about the answer to the mystery since we are, after all, mere peons and God is the Almighty. And we have no grounds for calling him to task for what he has done. If God made us, then presumably our sense of right and wrong came from him. If that's the case, there's no other sense of right and wrong but his. If he does something wrong, then he's culpable by the very standards of judgment that he's given us as sentient human beings.

And murdering babies, starving masses, and allowing genocides is wrong. Still, I have to admit that at the end of the day, this will sound as a surprise, I do have a biblical view of suffering. As it turns out, it's the view that's put forth in the book of Ecclesiastes. There's a lot we can't know about the world. This is what Ecclesiastes says. A lot of this world doesn't make sense.

Sometimes there's no justice. Things don't go as planned or as they should. A lot of bad things happen, but there are also a lot of good things that happen. The solution to life is to enjoy it while we can because it's fleeting. This is the view of the book of Ecclesiastes. This world and everything in it is temporary, transient, and soon to be over. We won't live forever.

In fact, we won't live long. And so we should enjoy life to the fullest, as much as we can, as long as we can. That's what the author of Ecclesiastes thinks and I agree. The idea that this life is all there is should not be an occasion for despair and despondency. But just the contrary, it should be a source of joy and dreams.

Joy of living for the moment and dreams of trying to make the world a better place, both for ourselves and for others in it. This means working to alleviate suffering and bringing hope to a world devoid of hope. There does not have to be world poverty.

The wealth could be redistributed. There don't have to be people sleeping on my streets in my city of Durham. Children really don't need to die of malaria. Families don't need to be destroyed by waterborne diseases. Villages don't need to die of massive starvation. Old people do not need to go for weeks on end without a single visitor. People do not have to be bigots or racists.

Our laws and customs don't have to discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. By all means, and most emphatically, I think we should work hard to make the world, the one we live in, the most pleasing place it can be for ourselves. We should love and be loved. We should cultivate our friendships, enjoy our intimate relationships, cherish our family lives. We should enjoy good food and wine. Yes, we should.

Chocolate, for example. We should eat out and order unhealthy desserts. We should cook steaks on the grill and drink Bordeaux. We should walk around the block, work in the garden, watch basketball and drink beer. We should travel and read books and go to museums and look at art and listen to music. We should make love, have babies and raise families. We should do what we can to love life.

It's a gift, and it will not be with us for long. But we should also work hard to make our world the most pleasing place it can be for others, whether this means visiting a friend in the hospital, giving more to a local charity or an international relief effort, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, or expressing our opposition to the violent oppression of innocent people. What we have in the here and now is all that there is. We need to live life to its fullest and help others as well to enjoy the fruits of the land. In the end, we may not have the ultimate solutions to life's problems, but just because we don't have an answer to suffering does not mean that we cannot have a response to it. Our response should be to work to alleviate suffering wherever possible and to live life as well as we can. Thank you so much, Bart.

I was expecting a spirited debate, and I was not disappointed. You judge a tree by its fruit, and you see the type of response that will be generated by Bart's teaching. And I don't believe, as sincere as he is about this, that it's going to generate sacrifice, that it's going to generate people giving themselves sacrificially to help people that are hurting.

And although we've both used the word obscene a number of times, I do find the counsel obscene for most of the world's suffering people. The people in grinding poverty hear about a new book that came out dealing with the problem of suffering, and they get it with eager hands. Someone's able to get them a copy of it, and they get to the end, and they begin to read, and it says grill steaks and eat unhealthy desserts.

They never had a square meal in their lives. How in the world does that possibly come with a compassionate, reasonable answer to the problem of suffering? And once again, we're in a narcissistic society. I was flying here and talking to someone on the plane about the debate or flying to New York before this, and I was talking about the debate back and forth. They found it fascinating, so I said, here, read the answer, and the fellow got mad. He said, we don't need more narcissism.

We don't need more it's about me, and that's what's killing our country. Judge a tree by its fruit. And then read the whole of the book of Ecclesiastes. Yes, enjoy life. Yes, enjoy the good things you can.

Yes, enjoy time with your family and cultivate friendships. But read to the end of the book. Read the last chapter that says, remember your creator in the days of your youth.

The book comes to a climax saying, it's more than this. Old Testament scholars said it to me like this the other day. The overall message of Ecclesiastes is that living without God is not living at all. And as for asking why, the Bible encourages us to ask. As I said earlier, it puts the words down and says, use these to bring your complaint against God.

But let's remember perspective, friends. In creation, there's day first and then night. You come to the end of Psalm 88 and it closes with the words, darkness is my closest friend. Sometimes that's our experience in life. It ends and the chapter is dark, but the next chapter, the next psalm begins with hope and life.

Weeping may endure for night, joy comes in the morning. So let's look at this and again, I want to say again, in no way do I fault Bart for losing his faith. And in no way do I find your answer unreasonable from your perspective, sir.

But ultimately, here's what you have. You lose God, you lose the comfort and reality that God can bring in this world. You bring his intervention and let me tell you, he is intervening on a regular basis around the world.

Maybe not as much as we like, but he is intervening. You take away his intervention, you take away his comfort, you take away his redemptive work. You take away his reality and the fellowship we enjoy with him. You take away the world to come and offer me Bordeaux and unhealthy desserts.

No thank you. I will stay with God and his reality and his promises and his wonders. And they're real. Ultimately, as I really chewed on this, I realized that what we have is Bart's problem, which is the problem of the human race and God's solution. In fact, I was just thinking of these two books, God's Problem, which probably sold more books than anything I've written, and The Solution. And really, when I look at this book, some of the things Bart wrote in it, the problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. He speaks of those that have a faith in God and look at the mystery of it and says, I respect this view deeply and some days I wish I shared it. He writes in his book that he has an amazing life, but he has no one for which to be thankful. This is a deep void, he writes inside me, a void of wanting someone to thank and I don't see any plausible way of filling it. Even candid enough to say in his book that he would sometimes wonder, what if I was right then but wrong now?

Will I burn forever? The fear of death gripped me for years and there's still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat. And I thought, you know, this is Bart's problem. This book represents Bart's problem and the problem of the human race. This represents God's solution.

With my heart and my soul, I give myself to God's solution and I commend God's solution to you. I taught at the Seminary in California last week and I had a student, former police officer in 1987, was broadsided by a logging truck and almost killed. His spleen exploded, multiple injuries, on life support. They had to give him, pour so much drugs into him it destroyed his retinas. He's basically blind, has to be led by the hand and suffered terribly, a diabetic, on and on and on. He was not a believer when that happened and I said, what was your experience then?

He said, it felt like absolute utter abandonment. And I said, now how is it with God? He hasn't been healed yet. How is it with God?

He said, it's like having the parent right there with the child. This man full of joy, full of life, full of hope, full of grace, even started a company to help handicapped people get places for work. I look at it and I say again, we have Bart's problem, we have God's solution. Once more I commend to you God and his solution. Thank you so much. Alright, that was it. You can watch the full debate if you go over to our YouTube channel. Ask Dr. Brown, ASK, DR Brown, and wherever you are, whatever's going on in your life, if you will seek him earnestly, he will reveal himself. He doesn't always do it the way we want, but we learn his ways are absolutely best.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-07 05:36:24 / 2023-07-07 05:56:21 / 20

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