Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Don't Have a Problem With it...

Today I'm reading Bart Ehrman's God's Problem with the Exponent 2 group. I read another book of his, Misquoting Jesus, and reviewed part of it here for a Mind on Fire reading group. I adore this author for his zeal as a born-again Christian, seminary student and minister, and also for his later searching, questioning and doubting.

There are many problems with Christianity that I struggle with, but the one which led Ehrman out of traditional belief isn’t one of them. Not that it isn’t fascinating to read about Ehrman’s crisis of faith, because I can relate to this struggle.

He posits three assertions that all seem to contradict each other:

God is all-powerful

God is all-loving

There is suffering
Ehrman says that theologians and philosophers cannot reconcile all three. But for me, it makes sense that if suffering transforms us into the kind of being we need to become, God will allow this suffering because he loves us, and he will not use his power to take this suffering away.

Heb. 2:9-11 tells of how Jesus was made perfect through his suffering, and that we are sanctified the same way.

Now, I’m not finished with the book yet (just got it from the library yesterday!) but skimming through the part I haven’t read, I don’t see that Ehrman really addresses this view. The closest he comes is his notion of “redemptive suffering” where suffering can bring glory to God, or a greater good. He wonders why an all-powerful God could not have brought about the greater good in a different way.  He also covers the explanation I hear from Mormons all the time, about how God allows free agency, and he blasts that one pretty well.

As far as I have read in the book, he really hasn’t considered the view that suffering makes us saints (or gods, in the LDS view), and though suffering causes earthly pain and anguish, it really is the best way to make us more compassionate and perfected beings. 

I'll probably have more to say about this book as I get further into it.  Until then, please go visit Exponent 2 blog and participate in the discussion!


mormongnostic said...

I listened to Ehrman give an interview about his book on NPR.

I wasn't that impressed either. One of my problems is that he expects the bible to produce a rational theodicy.

For example, his reading of Job is horrible. The point of Job is to respond to God in faith, not in reason, i.e. to provide a theodicy. It is Job's faith response that is at the heart of that text. Ehrman doesn't seem to get that.

So I guess my point is that one should not expect the Bible to explain suffering. If one takes Job seriously only a faith response is sufficient. Ehrman may know ancient texts very well, but he doesn't seem to be a very good reader.

Btw, the answer you seem to be giving is often called the "soul making theodicy."

I don't really think its successful. But that's probably because I don't think any traditional theodicy can succeed.

J G-W said...

I recently read an old book by Sterling McMurrin entitled Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (1965). A delightful treatise dealing with just this issue...

Bored in Vernal said...

MormonGnostic, Thanks for the link! I like that theodicy. The site also includes the problems it has:
1. Does this argument justify evil?

2. Can we judge any action only on its consequences?

3. Do the means justify the ends? What sort of good might the Holocaust justify? Would it be worth it?

4. The idea of "soul-making" supposes that an individual may be given enough time to learn. Where infants die, or children, how can we view their chances against someone who lives, say, to the age of 80?

5. Does this view imply that some souls are more important than others?

6. Can the justification of soul-making be used when we can't prove if the soul exists or not?

I can answer all of them to my satisfaction except #4. The suffering of innocent children does not seem to serve a purpose, and is very, very difficult to understand.

J G-W said...

In relation to #4... A cousin of mine wrote a letter to Dialogue a while back, with a Brigham Young quote. BY was responding to a question about whether babies who look like they might not survive long after birth should be hurriedly blessed and given a name. BY's answer was, No, they shouldn't, there was no need to worry about that, as he believed that young children who died without having a proper chance at life would be given a chance to come back.

Quinn has documented that both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young explored the idea of reincarnation. According to Quinn, Smith ultimately rejected it. But based on the quote my cousin found, Young may have believed in at least a modified form of it...

Bored in Vernal said...

John, that is fascinating!