Why We Suffer

July 6, 2008 | 53 comments
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I recently finished Bart D. Ehrman’s latest book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer (HarperCollins, 2008). Like all Ehrman’s books, it is both informative and troubling.

The book is informative in presenting a clear summary of several different answers the Bible provides to the question of why we suffer, or what C. S. Lewis called “the problem of pain.” Here’s a short list of the biblical explanations for suffering Ehrman discusses: (1) Divine punishment, also called “the classical view” as it features prominently in both the Old and New Testaments, but most notably in the OT prophetic books. (2) Consequences of human decisions to sin, as in the suffering a murderer causes an innocent victim and the victim’s family. God may one day punish (inflict suffering on) the murderer, but the transgressor as a human agent can also cause suffering by the innocent. (3) Redemptive suffering, by which suffering somehow works a greater good. The story of Joseph in the last part of Genesis illustrates this view of suffering, as does the New Testament view that the suffering of Jesus on the cross is vicariously redemptive. (4) Suffering has no satisfactory explanation that we can grasp, seemingly the message of Job and Ecclesiastes. (5) Apocalyptic justice: God will at some point triumphantly intervene in human history or bring to pass a Last Judgment in the next life to punish the wicked and justify the righteous.

I found the last chapters on apocalypticism especially useful for bringing biblical apocalyptic literature within this biblical conversation about suffering. Ehrman presents biblical apocalypticism as essentially the response of second-century BCE Jewish thinkers to the failure of the other explanations to give an adequate explanation for the arc of Israelite and Jewish history. In the apocalyptic view, it is independent and autonomous forces of evil (depicted, for example, as the beasts in Daniel’s vision) that cause suffering, but one day God will triumph over the forces of evil and bring an end to human suffering.

So how is the book troubling? Some readers will be troubled by Ehrman’s forthright account in the first chapter of his own loss of Christian faith: “The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith.” He says that “ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith.” I don’t question Ehrman’s sincerity, but I no longer accept constructed conversion or deconversion narratives at face value. There’s always more going on beneath the surface. But I do appreciate Ehrman’s willingness to put his own cards on the table, yet not proselyte. He is not an apostle of the New Atheism. And one can’t really fault Ehrman for becoming disenchanted with evangelical Protestant beliefs.

Others might be troubled that their own view of human suffering does not seem to raise the deep moral qualms or philosophical challenges that Ehrman uses to frame his discussion. In other words, some readers might respond that the proper response to suffering and evil is not to intellectualize it, but to alleviate it. Paraphrasing Marx, we might say the point is not to understand suffering, but to change it.

A related response along these lines would be that into every life a little painful rain must fall, but we must press on with hope rather than dwell on the pain. Think of that scene from Lonesome Dove where Gus (Robert Duvall) counsels a disconsolate young Newt (Rick Schroder) who is grieving at the fresh grave of a friend with words something like these: “The best thing to do with death is just walk away.”

I’ll wind up by noting that Ehrman himself comes close to endorsing these unphilosophical responses to the problem of suffering. I’ll give him the last word:

I tend to agree with scholars like Ken Surin–who is easily as brilliant as any of the theodicists he attacks–that many of the attempts to explain evil can, in the end, be morally repugnant. I can even sympathize with theologians like Terrence Tilley, who argues that a believer’s response to theodicy should be to renounce it as an intellectual project. … Suffering, at the end of the day, should not lead merely to an intellectual explanation. It should also lead to a personal response.

53 Responses to Why We Suffer

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 6, 2008 at 8:50 am

    I did a series of posts on this topic, the last one being at http://mormonmatters.org/2008/05/11/affliction-final-post-in-the-series/

  2. Jonathan Green on July 6, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Dave, I hope you’ll say something more some time, perhaps in a separate post, about the line, “I don’t question Ehrman’s sincerity, but I no longer accept constructed conversion or deconversion narratives at face value.”

  3. Blake on July 6, 2008 at 11:37 am

    My primary concern is Ehrman’s failure to address the vast and well-articulated responses to the problem of evil (defenses and theodicies) in the philosophical literature. So what if the Bible doesn’t address the problem well (and it doesn’t in my view) when there are other responses that are cogent and much better developed in the Jewish and Christian traditions.

  4. the narrator on July 6, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    i haven’t read ehrman’s latest yet, but from the reviews i’ve read i must concur with his assessment. furthermore, while ehrman may not have dealt with the defenses and theodicies of the jewish and christian philosophical and theological traditions, i am guessing that his assessment of those would be similar to that of d.z.phillips (especially in his the problem of evil and the problem of god) such that like the theodicies of the bible, the philosophical defenses and theodicies make great literature and fun philosophical puzzles, but they hardly address the cries of the suffering across the world: the cry of “why this suffering,” or the existential problem of evil. i also think that, like the biblical theodicies, philosophical attempts to explain evil create bigger moral and theological problems then they solve. we ar still left ot wonder why god might intervene in one situation and not the other? does god actualyl intervene at all? if god does intervene, why would he go against our free will? if god does not intervene, was that evil for a greater good? if god does not intervene, does our attempt to assuage the evil thwart god’s greater plan? should we not intervene at all? etc etc etc.

    a few years ago, a friend called up in tears after her aunt had passed away from cancer leaving a husband and four young children to mourn for her. we went for a short drive that night up the canyon to talk about things. she was distraught and wanting to know why her aunt had to die.there must have been a reason. her particular death at her particular time had to be for a particular reason. there had to be some greater purpose in her specific death.in the kindest way possible, i basically told her that her aunt didn’t die for any particular reason. cancer happens. it kills and it sucks. she had every right to be sad. we then prayed for her and her family, to give them strength as they mourn. she later told me that that reply helped her more than any explanation ever would.

  5. It's Not Me on July 6, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Actually, that line about no longer accepting conversion/deconversion narratives at face value resonated with me. Not because I have personal experience with it, but because I think we are too complicated to be able to accurately describe major decisions so summarily.

  6. Joe Geisner on July 6, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you Dave for posting about Bart Ehrman’s book. I have to admit that Ehrman has helped me deal with my doubts, concerns and questions. I have been uplifted and inspired by his books. As I read narrator’s comments in #4 I realized one of the things I appreciate about Ehrman is that he takes very complicated issues and is able to explain them to someone as dumb as myself. After reading and listening to Ehrman I have come away with an entirely new appreciation for Jesus, the early Christians and the New Testament. “God’s Problem” has helped me place evil in a context I now understand.

  7. Julie M. Smith on July 6, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for this post.

    One note: you wrote, “Like all Ehrman’s books, it is both informative and troubling.” but I would say that there is nothing in _Misquoting Jesus_ that should or would be particularly troubling for LDS.

  8. Researcher on July 6, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    When this subject comes up, I think about a cartoon that someone tacked up on a bulletin board at work years ago. It shows the Viking Hagar sitting in a small boat at sea in the middle of a violent storm. He asks the heavens “Why me?” and in the next frame an answer booms down from heaven: “Why not?”

    It doesn’t say quite all that could be said on the subject, but does a pretty good job in four words. And the memory of this comic has provided me sometimes with a touch of humor during crisis.

  9. Ray on July 6, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    If any one cares, I just recounted the experiences of two close friends and their responses to extreme trials in their lives. I generally find these simple statements of those who have suffered greatly to be far more profound than intellectual treatises.

    http://mormonmatters.org/2008/07/03/just-for-perspective/

  10. StillConfused on July 6, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    I have never really had an issue with suffering. Suffering does not impact my religious views at all. I have personally found that my challenges in life have been my greatest source of strength and growth.

  11. Jessawhy on July 6, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I also wondered about this line, “I no longer accept constructed conversion or deconversion narratives at face value.”
    Like Narrator (#4) I’ve been struggling with the death of my friend’s one year old son. At the funeral, and in conversations since, they’ve tried to find meaning in his death. Part of me wants to believe that he has a mission in the next life and that God called him home, but part of me thinks that God permits bad things to happen when there may not be a good reason. But thinking he was called home seems to make my friend feel better (she was out of town when her son died in a freak (preventable) household accident).
    So, this issue is really in the front of my mind and as my friend said, death is a faithbuster.
    I can see why Ehrman couldn’t overcome this issue with his faith.

  12. Nat Whilk on July 6, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    If the existence of suffering was such a problem for Ehrman that it caused him to lose his faith in God, I assume he’d want to avoid inflicting it himself at all costs. But then he goes and publishes a book that apparently argues that there is no benevolent core to the universe. Does he not think that this proclamation will itself add to the amount of suffering in the world?

  13. Sasha on July 7, 2008 at 12:08 am

    “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” This is what Resurrection is all about, breaching the gap between the effect of death and the triumph of life. A Christian for whom death is a faithbuster is just about the most miserable of anyone I can imagine. Taking the cumulative mortality around the world, that’s 155,000 faithbusters a day! By the way, almost 11 million children under the age of five died last year from a preventable disease.

    While I do wonder how things work, I admit that in my terribly shortsighted view, the answer is beyond the horizon. But for me, the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ, so the question “Why do we suffer?” is replaced with “How can I help others who suffer?”.

  14. Jim F. on July 7, 2008 at 12:32 am

    Sasha (#13): Thanks for the best response so far. Amen.

  15. EmilyCC on July 7, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Dave, I like that you pointed out Ehrman’s loss of faith and yet, this book doesn’t try to “convert” people to agnosticism. I think this is a real strength of the book. Ehrman lays out his bias, and yet, still analyzes the biblical text quite objectively.

    We’re reading this book for a book discussion on The Exponent blog this Wednesday. Hope you’ll join us.

  16. Dave on July 7, 2008 at 4:02 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Blake (#3), I think Ehrman limited his discussion to biblical arguments because he’s a biblical scholar, not a philosopher or theologian, and doesn’t feel particularly qualified to address those later debates. However, it’s clear from his discussion from which my closing quote was lifted that he doesn’t think much of the theological discussion of the issue.

    Julie (#7), I agree Misquoting Jesus isn’t a problem for LDS readers and heartily recommend it. I’d even go so far as to suggest keeping an extra copy on the bookshelf for the benefit of the neighborhood evangelical who starts mouthing off about how flawed the Book of Mormon is in light of the inerrant Bible.

    Jessawhy (#11), I’m not sure any theological discussion of suffering in this world is compelling or even comforting in the face of deep personal loss, and my sincere sympathy goes out to anyone in that position who is reading this post. On the other hand, many who encounter such a loss do, over time, feel a need to put some meaning or wider context on that loss. At that point many find such discussions helpful.

    EmilyCC (#15), I’d describe Ehrman as a gentle and informed critic of some mainstream Christian beliefs, but that gentleness is so surprising given the harshness of many other critics that it is refreshing, even when you disagree with him. Wednesday’s busy for me, but I’ll try to drop in on the discussion at The Exponent.

  17. Bob on July 7, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I do agree with #12 &13: I think the question of why we suffer, will… for now, stay beyond our understanding. But how can I help to limit it, is understandable, and within everyone reach at the moment.

  18. ECS on July 7, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Squaring the existence of suffering on the scale of the Jewish Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the 2004 East Asian tsunami, as well as the pervasive and ubiquitous suffering of children who die daily from hunger and preventable diseases, with the existence of an omnipotent, loving Father has been (and is) a spiritual stumbling block for me.

    Even if we can “rationally” explain away suffering (as a result of sin, “free” agency, as redemptive, as ulitmately restorative), the horrors of human existence – particularly the unspeakable afflictions suffered by innocent children – should give even the most confident believer nightmares. “Should” in the sense that if you’re able to easily dispense with the problem of suffering, then either you’re not paying attention or you’re a monstrous excuse for a human being.

    One substantive question I had as I read the book was that Ehrman provides an independent analysis of the apolcalypic view of suffering that confused me – in short, that evil forces outside ordinary human control now rule the earth, and in due time Armaggedon will explode the forces of good and evil and Jesus/God will appear and put everything right.

    It seems to me that if we accept the apocalyptic view, however, then we’re conceding that God is not, in fact, omnipotent. God’s omnipotence is routinely and emphatically confirmed in the holy texts, so why would an omnipotent God allow evil forces to overrun and rule His creation?

  19. jessawhy on July 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

    We’re having a discussion starting Wednesday about this book at the Exponent.
    Here’s the reminder with links to other reviews.
    http://the-exponent.com/2008/07/07/book-discussion-reminder-for-this-wednesday/

  20. Ardis Parshall on July 7, 2008 at 11:12 am

    “Should” in the sense that if you’re able to easily dispense with the problem of suffering, then either you’re not paying attention or you’re a monstrous excuse for a human being.

    Uh, gee, thanks.

    Is suffering on the scale of the horrendous events you mention 6 million times worse than the suffering of, say, a single child in Salt Lake or Chicago or Miami, beaten to death by her parents after a lifetime of abuse and neglect? Does the fact that 6 million people suffer individually under similar conditions within a limited time and space make their suffering greater than the suffering of 6 million individuals scattered in time and space and circumstance?

    I cannot believe so, because I cannot imagine that anyone in the throes of suffering really stops to think, “What a relief that it’s just me and not 5,999,999 others along with me” or else “How glad I am that there are 5,999,999 others to keep me company in my suffering.”

    So I guess I’ll have to accept the label of “monstrous excuse for a human being.”

    The thing is, I *do* find various of Ehrman’s list (3 of the 5 certainly, maybe a 4th) to be satisfactory and comforting explanations, under different circumstances. Admittedly I haven’t suffered the ultimate horrors that millions, perhaps billions, have; but I find adequate explanation in 3 of those 5 reasons to cope with the limited suffering that *has* been my lot, and don’t foresee that changing no matter what might come: If God exists, if He has a plan for my redemption, if Christ has overcome and will make whole — all of which I do know now — then no degree or amount or scale of suffering will change those facts.

  21. Nat Whilk on July 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    @15: “Ehrman lays out his bias, and yet, still analyzes the biblical text quite objectively.

    He’s biased, yet objective? How is that possible?

    @18: “. . . should give even the most confident believer nightmares.

    So this is a type of suffering you’re in favor of?

  22. DavidH on July 7, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    My response to the problem of human suffering is that “God has some ‘splaining to do.” I look forward to it.

  23. Loyd on July 7, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    re: #22

    Lucy!!!

  24. ECS on July 7, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    Hi, Ardis – I’m a bit confused by your comment, because I specifically mentioned children routinely dying of mundane things like hunger and the measles – along with events like the human-created Holocaust and the Acts of God like the 2004 tsunami. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t think the numbers matter much when we’re talking about horrors like child abuse, rape, sex trafficking, slavery, or death by measles, hunger, AIDS, cancer, etc.

    My “monstrous excuse” adjective was, well, a bit hyperbolic, but so is God allowing (and, if we take the Old Testament literally sometimes directing), the mass murder of innocent children, or the systematic slaughter of an entire people because of their religious beliefs. Ultimately, I guess you’re right, we have to be concerned with our own salvation and hand the rest over to God, but the horrible suffering of this world proves to me that God does not love His Children as we would define “love”. Clearly, if parents acted towards their earthly children the way God acts towards His Children, they’d be prosecuted for neglect, endangerment and, in some cases, first-degree murder.

    Personally, I’d rather God were impotent, rather than God choosing to intervene so capriciously in earthly events. He’ll part the Red Sea, turn water into wine, but still allow hundreds of children daily to be violently murdered or starved to death?

  25. Ardis Parshall on July 7, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    ECS, if suffering isn’t worse because it happens to millions than because it happens to one (and I don’t think it is, and you say you think likewise), then why do we so often muddy the issue by talking about scale? If it’s one-on-one (God and Susie, God and Johnny, God and Jose) as both of us apparently believe it is, can we simplify things and not be distracted by scale?

    What if the suffering “one” is Ardis Parshall? I know I could potentially suffer horribly at the hands of another human (2). I know I could suffer as a consequence of my own misbehavior (1). I suppose I could suffer for the greater good (say, getting crushed by the bus as I push some kids out of its path) (3). (4) is out of the question in my worldview; (5) I don’t quite understand.

    I know God loves me — I have too much evidence of that to deny it. If I suffer because of (1), (2), or (3) and God doesn’t intervene, so what? That changes nothing, and whatever I lose here will be made up in the future. The only difference between me and millions of others is that I *know* that, and most of them do not.

    I understand suffering, to some degree, and I can do what I can do to alleviate it. But I don’t understand the problem of suffering as proof that God does not love his children. I believe you when you say it affects you that way, but I don’t understand.

  26. Jim Donaldson on July 7, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    > Personally, I’d rather God were impotent, rather than God choosing to intervene so capriciously
    > in earthly events. He’ll part the Red Sea, turn water into wine, but still allow hundreds of children
    > daily to be violently murdered or starved to death? (#24)

    I just finished a year teaching the Old Testament in seminary. One of our frequently used tools for analysis and understanding was a question like this: “What does God know that I don’t that could somehow make this fair?” Sometimes the answer was that God apparently does not value human life in the same way many of us do, or at least as we in the Western philosophic tradition do. We concluded (my high schoolers and I) that while earthly death is just about the scariest thing in life, if you pull back as far as God is, where time is really space, maybe not so much. For us, IT IS OUR WHOLE LIFE! For him, it’s just a very small place, kinda over there. And as usual, he’s probably right.

    From God’s point of view, couldn’t he be thinking “let’s get these kids with their wretched lives out of here–that’s really the compassionate thing–hustle them off to paradise.” Kind of like the old joke: First prize, a week in Pittsburgh; second prize, two weeks in Pittsburgh. Maybe a short earthly visit is the kindest thing he can do for them, sort it out later. Rather than our ‘great blessing’ of a 60 or 70 years trying to get that damn home teaching done. Maybe, I don’t know. But that helps keep me from going crazy when I think about it. And we all know we are going to die, what difference does it matter if it is a nasty disease, an avalanche, or stepping off the curb in front of a bus. Are not our days numbered?

    I think that there will be wonderful surprises in the hereafter. Things that drove us crazy now will be easily grasped, and we’ll slap our foreheads at not being able to get it while we were living it. I’m sure we will be amazed at how fair it all turns out to be. That’s my testimony.

    Resist the temptation to try to turn earth into the celestial kingdom. It ain’t gonna happen and it won’t get better even if you try really hard. It isn’t what we are supposed to be doing anyway. We are supposed to be working in that small space–teaching our children, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the jailed, delivering those casseroles, just one sheep at a time. God is not all that impressed with big numbers. Trust me on that.

  27. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    The notion taught by Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide that “This is the best of all possible worlds” was contrasted with the suffering of Lisbon under the great earthquake that sent a tidal wave into the city. The Pangloss statement is NOT Christian doctrine. Rather, the best world will be the celestial one, which will be created when the wicked are punished and transformed, and there will be no more death or pain or hunger and “God will wipe away our tears.”

    Until the earth is transformed and evil men are removed, this world is going to be subject to the condition of being separated from God and subject to pain and suffering that are part of the mortal condition that Adam and Eve, on our behalf, chose to undergo so they could get through to the eternal blessings that wait on the other side of what is by definition a “Telestial” and often hellish world. Indeed, LDS doctrine is that, while Christ is the creator of countless worlds with numberless inhabitatns redeemed by his atonement, the one place in the universe where he could get an unfair trial and be executed just for being the Son of God was here on earth. In other words, the world we live in is so bad that it executes Gods!

    Many of the choices we make as we become saints reduce our risk of suffering. On the other hand, because of evil men, the more obviously righteous we are, the more likely we will be targeted for suffering, as was the case with Christ and Joseph Smith and other prophets. Henry Eyring the scientists stated that one reason he believed in eternal life was that it was the only way we would ever see justice, because we could not get it in mortal life. Indeed, accepting the gospel means a conscious sacrifice of short term pleasure and safety for long term security with God. Think of the Ammonite converts who refused to take up weapons to defend themselves and their families, and were cut down while praying. There was no immediate making up to those killed, or to their wives and children, of this loss. It only made sense if you believed that there is more to life than just mortality, that it is worth suffering and sacrificing here and now in order to have an eternal happiness in the long term. If you don’t have that long term perspective, there is no justice. But we have assurance that it is real.

    Suffering in mortality does not necessarily have “mysterious good” coming out of it somewhere else in this life. Suffering in mortality, if done by righteous people, specifically prepares us for eternity. It does not have to relieve suffering for someone down the street, or prevent an even greater quantum of suffering. It does US good, as we learn that there is more to life than pain. King Benjamin was told by the angel that, to change from “natural men” we must be willing to submit to the suffering that comes from living righteously and obediently to God’s laws.

    We can suffer pointlessly, or we can suffer righteously, and be benefited by it in the long run.

    God could not arrange the universe so that his Son could avoid suffering and death. It was necessary for that suffering to occur so we could be united again with the Father. If God cannot arbitrarily rearrange reality to shield his Son from suffering, the same reasons–of free will and necessity–seem to weigh to the conclusion that the fact of our own suffering is also unavoidable. If even God is not exempt, what is the basis for us to claim that privilege?

    That is not to say that our only response to sufferers is “Buck up.” Rather, we have promised to “mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.” We are enjoined to relieve suffering everywhere we can, so that at the last judgment we will be told by Christ that we have done that kindness to him, who suffered more than anyone. Indeed, we are told in Alma 7:11 that everything we suffer in mortality is felt by Christ. Christ can be a just judge because he knows precisely what we have gone through. We do not suffer in a corner, but God knows all of our pain and anguish.

  28. the narrator on July 7, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    God is not all that impressed with big numbers. Trust me on that.

    Reminds me of when my elders quorum president told me that God doesn’t care about starvign children in Africa because he sees the bigger picture. What followed was the only time I have ever sworn at a church leader and kicked him out of my apartment.

    If our perception of suffering is relative to the experiential potential of the sufferer, then what we can suffer relative to our short existence is far more excruciating than what God is capable of suffering in his infinite existence. If so, then God morally must be much more sympathetic to the cries of dying children, not the other way around.

    While some may find comfort in believing that their particular suffering (or the suffering of a loved one) is meant by God for their good, I find a generalization of that personal belief to be unfortunate at the least and morally repugnant and blasphemous at any higher degree.

    I am reminded of Elie Weisel’s words as he witnessed a child being hung during the holocaust and remarking that it was the day that God died and there he was hanging in the rafter. Unfortunately my cop of the book is boxed away as Weisel is much more eloquent in his writing.

    Please do not blame my loving God for the atrocities that happen across the world. They simply happen.

    Furthermore, I must disagree with your statement about it being wrong to try to make the Earth into a celestial kingdom. My reading of the scriptures and the message of the Gospel much be very different than yours, as I believe we are called by Christ to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, to create zion.

  29. Jim Donaldson on July 8, 2008 at 1:42 am

    > Furthermore, I must disagree with your statement about it being wrong to try to make the
    > Earth into a celestial kingdom. My reading of the scriptures and the message of the Gospel
    > much be very different than yours, as I believe we are called by Christ to bring the kingdom
    > of heaven to earth, to create zion. (#28)

    Part of our problem maybe definitional: The church is the kingdom of God, sometimes called the kingdom of Heaven. This is not the same as the Celestial Kingdom or even heaven, which is so vague as to be useless. I don’t think the terms are interchangeable and I certainly didn’t mean a generic heaven. I really meant the Celestial Kingdom. I’ll explain:

    Earth is the domain of Satan, wickedness is unfettered. The Celestial Kingdom, which doesn’t even exist yet, will be the domain of God, where there will be no evil. There are many things in the Celestial Kingdom that can’t even be touched on Earth now, e.g., perfect justice, perfect obedience, perfect fidelity, etc. To focus on achieving the impossible can only distract us from doing all that we can. We can be a little more just, but we can’t eliminate injustice. Part of the purpose of this life is to see how we do and what we can learn in a world soaked in temptation and bathed in evil.

    We are called to bring forth the kingdom of God, to bear one another’s burdens, and to minimize each other’s suffering. We hope to do much good for all. We hope to improve ourselves and even, in a small way, start to perfect ourselves. But the Celestial Kingdom, like perfection itself, is not attainable here. A worthy goal, perhaps, but we fall as far short of it as a group, as we fall short individually of being the Savior. We are talking big distances here.

    I know about all those general conference talks where we are instructed to ‘make our homes a bit of heaven on earth.’ Please consider the possibility that this is, like the removal of Adam’s rib and the sacrament, metaphorical. We are to build as much goodness in our homes as we can and make them a sanctuary from the world. I like it. I love it. But it isn’t really heaven. And it isn’t what I was talking about.

    And, by the way, how is that Zion thing going?

  30. the narrator on July 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Jim,

    tell that to the people of Enoch. The idea that the kingdom of heaven is simply the church is a rather simplistic and rather Catholic notion that does not encompass the notion of community building, consecration, and the establishment of zion that largely made up Joseph’s vision. Perhaps a celestialized glory is not attainable at the present, however that is no reason to not pursue it. This is all rather quite teh tangent though.

    Jesus and Joseph Smith were concerned with far more than simply making the home a sanctuary. They were trying to change the world.

    And, by the way, how is that Zion thing going?

    Not good. Too many of us, like you and I, have the unfortunate attitude of “Eat, drink and let suffer. For tomorrow we die.”

  31. Kari on July 8, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Blake says,
    My primary concern is Ehrman’s failure to address the vast and well-articulated responses to the problem of evil (defenses and theodicies) in the philosophical literature. So what if the Bible doesn’t address the problem well (and it doesn’t in my view) when there are other responses that are cogent and much better developed in the Jewish and Christian traditions.

    I’m old enough to remember specific prohibitions against listening to those teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.

  32. CS Eric on July 8, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I believe that part of our individual response to the question as to why God permits suffering will depend in large part on our view of the purpose of life. Put simply, I believe that life here is a test, and part of that test is to see whether we are willing to, as Mosiah 18 puts it, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Or will we instead claim that we really aren’t our brothers’ keeper and avoid the man on the road to Jericho?

    Two examples. First, several years ago when the Tsunami hit southeast Asia, as my wife and I were watching the satellite pictures showing the destruction it left, the first words out of her mouth were “I wish I could help those people somehow.” I was frankly embarrassed that a similar thought hadn’t passed through my small mind. The second example is more recent. One of the families in our ward recently retired here from the San Diego area. When the father saw the area that he’d called home for so long going up in smoke last summer, he loaded his truck with shovels, chainsaws, and other tools, and got two of his adult sons to go with him and drove there to help. He went with no other plan or thought in mind than “I need to help.” When he got there, he found other people who had followed the same impulse.

    God doesn’t always expect us to be our brothers’ keeper, but He at least expects us to be our brothers’ brother. I think part of the reason He permits suffering is so that we can help alleviate it–on whatever scale we can.

  33. Loyd on July 8, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    “I think part of the reason He permits suffering is so that we can help alleviate it–on whatever scale we can. ”

    So maybe God killed my friend’s aunt so that I could have the opportunity to comfort her? I hope my friends aren’t in any dire need to do some charitable service.

  34. Nat Whilk on July 8, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    The logical fallacies being committed in this thread are causing me to suffer. What kind of a God would create a universe in which this is permitted to happen?

  35. StillConfused on July 8, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    “What kind of a God would create a universe in which this is permitted to happen?” What kind of God wouldn’t??

  36. the narrator on July 8, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    “The logical fallacies being committed in this thread are causing me to suffer. What kind of a God would create a universe in which this is permitted to happen?”

    haha. it took me a minutes to understand the joke.

  37. quin on July 9, 2008 at 1:43 am

    \”Jesus and Joseph Smith were concerned with far more than simply making the home a sanctuary. They were trying to change the world\”

    Both Christ and Joseph Smith understood that changing the world involves getting mortals to change their hearts. They also both knew that many of them won\’t. Establishing Zion will also cause pain and suffering, because while the pure in heart rejoice within the safety of \”Zion\”, the wicked and rebellious will mourn and be destroyed.

    We are building Zion, one person, one family, one congregation, one stake at a time. Of course we are to share our means with those who have less, to do what we can to alleviate mortal suffering and pain. But we start with our neighbors, then our communities, then our cities and towns and move outward. God has not asked us to ignore or step over the poor and needy who live near us to save others who live in another country. He has asked us to pay generous fast offerings, donate our time and means to the humanitarian center, and spread the gospel so that others can join in doing the same thing. He called us to bind the heavens and earth together-through His holy temple ordinances, so that the earth will not be utterly wasted at His coming.

    The \”suffering\” Christ came to alleviate goes beyond mortal hunger and pain. He came to prevent the pain and sorrow of damnation and eternal loss for those who would accept His precious gift. We have been called to cry repentance and teach the world that Christ has conquered death and that accepting Him as our Saviour allows us all to return to a place where hunger and thirst and fear do not exist.

  38. quin on July 9, 2008 at 1:43 am

    \”Jesus and Joseph Smith were concerned with far more than simply making the home a sanctuary. They were trying to change the world\”

    Both Christ and Joseph Smith understood that changing the world involves getting mortals to change their hearts. They also both knew that many of them won\’t. Establishing Zion will also cause pain and suffering, because while the pure in heart rejoice within the safety of \”Zion\”, the wicked and rebellious will mourn and be destroyed.

    We are building Zion, one person, one family, one congregation, one stake at a time. Of course we are to share our means with those who have less, to do what we can to alleviate mortal suffering and pain. But we start with our neighbors, then our communities, then our cities and towns and move outward. God has not asked us to ignore or step over the poor and needy who live near us to save others who live in another country. He has asked us to pay generous fast offerings, donate our time and means to the humanitarian center, and spread the gospel so that others can join in doing the same thing. He called us to bind the heavens and earth together-through His holy temple ordinances, so that the earth will not be utterly wasted at His coming.

    The \”suffering\” Christ came to alleviate goes beyond mortal hunger and pain. He came to prevent the pain and sorrow of damnation and eternal loss for those who would accept His precious gift. We have been called to cry repentance and teach the world that Christ has conquered death and that accepting Him as our Saviour allows us all to return to a place where hunger and thirst and fear do not exist.

  39. quin on July 9, 2008 at 1:46 am

    Oops. Sorry double post and weird errors!

  40. the narrator on July 9, 2008 at 2:15 am

    …and in the quest for some distant future, we ignore the present.

    as I said before “Eat, drink, and let suffer. For tomorrow we die.”

    If our present lives are so pathetic and unimportant, why don’t we just start slaughtering babies. It’s just bringing them closer to God.

    1. What suffering God allows God wants to happen for the greater good.
    2. Slaughtering babies causes suffering
    3. God would not allow a baby to be slaughtered unless it was for the greater good.
    4. If a baby is slaughtered, it is because it is for the greater good
    5. We are just here to get a moral body anyways.
    6. Our mortal lives are rather insignificant in the eternal scheme of things.
    7. Dying just brings us to heaven quicker.
    8. Slaughtering a baby brings the baby quicker ot heaven.
    9. Dead babies go to the celestial kingdom.
    10. Slaughtering a baby will guarantee it celesital glory.
    11. If the baby isn’t slaughtered it may end up damned somehow.
    12. For the baby’s well being we should slaughter it.
    13. If we slaughter babies and are allowed to, it would be for both the baby’s well being and the greater good.
    14. We should slaughter as many babies as God allows us.

    It’s late and I’m too tired/worn to fill in the logic. Who wants to get started?
    11. For the sake of the baby and for the greater good

  41. the narrator on July 9, 2008 at 2:17 am

    that lastt line shouldn’t be there. it’s late.

  42. Eric Boysen on July 9, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Why don’t we slaughter babies? God has commanded us not to. Offences must come, but woe to those by whom they come.

    I am much more troubled by pain, physical and emotional, than by death.

  43. JT on July 9, 2008 at 10:36 am

    (16) – “I agree Misquoting Jesus isn’t a problem for LDS readers and heartily recommend it. I’d even go so far as to suggest keeping an extra copy on the bookshelf for the benefit of the neighborhood evangelical who starts mouthing off about how flawed the Book of Mormon is in light of the inerrant Bible.”

    I’ve thought the same thing (and loved the book), though I wonder how receptive evangelicals are to Ehrman. Judging from the responses written to some of his books (including Misquoting Jesus), he almost seems to be a public enemy among them.

    I’ve been trying to complete this sentence:

    Bart Ehrman is to Evangelicals as ________ is to Mormonism. (Mike Quinn?)

  44. JT on July 9, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Oops – (43) should end “is to Mormons.”

  45. John C. on July 9, 2008 at 10:45 am

    JT,
    I don’t believe that we have a Bart Ehrman equivalent. In fact, I think that we have generally insulated ourselves against it by dismissing ex-mormons as bitter apostates or pseudo-intellectuals.

  46. JT on July 9, 2008 at 10:59 am

    (45) John C. – I’ve been wondering if that is what evangelicals are doing with Ehrman.

  47. JT on July 9, 2008 at 11:55 am

    For example, here are a couple of reviews of Misquoting Jesus from a somewhat scholarly evangelical perspecitive:

    1. Professor Daniel B. Wallace, Dallas Theological Seminary: http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4000.
    2. P.J. Williams, Evangelical Textual Criticism blog: http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2005/12/review-of-bart-ehrman-misquoting-jesus_31.html.

  48. quin on July 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    narrator,

    I see no one here saying “eat, drink, and let suffer” except for you. No one here so far has indicated that they enjoy suffering or want others to suffer. No one here has said they have all the answers to the “why” of suffering. Your answer to your friend is as good as any other that has been offered- [slaughter, death, hunger, pain, torture] happens. It kills and it sucks. We have a right to be sad. And we pray for those who suffer and their families that they will have strength as they mourn, and we mourn with them.

  49. Loyd on July 9, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    “No one here so far has indicated that they enjoy suffering or want others to suffer.”

    That’s my point. Nobody wants to make this explicit, because doing so sounds abhorrent. Yet, many here are arguing that God wanted (or at least positively allowed) either some or all suffering to occur. (God allows suffering X to occur because it is for the greater good, or God does not intervene with suffering X because doing so would intervene with a greater good). And they are praising God’s supposedly doing so. If it is God’s will that such suffering occur, then I doubt they would be against God’s will. And if it’s not against God’s will that such suffering occur, why isn’t God intervening?

    Even if this logic is followed, I hear again and again (here and elsewhere) that our earthly suffering is insignificant to the grandeur totality of our existence. Hence, “Eat, drink, and let suffer for tomorrow we die.”

    If our suffering is really that insignificant relative to our infinite existence, then we ought not to be worried about preventing such suffering. However, you as you seem to be saying, suffering isn’t that insignificant. It is really bad. It ought to be stopped. If such is the case, then God ought to be intervening as well.

    But in order to maintain a perhaps overly-rosy picture of God, too often we excuse God by putting on a second face and appealing to a necessity of suffering, an insignificance of suffering, or some reward-per-suffering justification – all of which (i believe, immorally) hide and ignore the anguish of suffering.

    Again “Eat, drink (do what you will), let suffer (no need to alleviate -except for maybe brownie points with God), for tomorrow we die (in the eternal scheme of things, it isn’t that big of a deal).

  50. John C. on July 9, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    JT,
    I don’t doubt that this is what some Evangelicals would do. However, there are some pretty “liberal” Evangelicals out there who might be more open to his message. In any case, I don’t believe we have a Mormon Ehrman around today.

  51. quin on July 9, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I see. A much more preferable logic then is:

    (If)Everything that brings about a greater good must be pleasant and wonderful to experience, (if) suffering is not pleasant (then) suffering cannot bring about greater good.
    OR
    (If)God only permits things to happen that bring Him joy and delight, (if) God permits suffering, (then) God enjoys and delights in suffering.

    According to this theory, the world can only be understood by embracing irrational absolutes:If God really hated suffering He could/should prevent it. Since He does not prevent it, He must really enjoy it.(and even if we can’t admit it, so do we)

  52. Sam on July 11, 2008 at 12:27 am

    I pulled this quote from the first review of Ehrman’s book; it’s written for evangelicals but seems to apply to us too:

    “His testimony in Misquoting Jesus discussed inerrancy as the prime mover in his studies. But when a glib comment from one of his conservative professors at Princeton was scribbled on a term paper, to the effect that perhaps the Bible is not inerrant, Ehrman’s faith began to crumble. One domino crashed into another until eventually he became ‘a fairly happy agnostic.’ I may be wrong about Ehrman’s own spiritual journey, but I have known too many students who have gone in that direction.

    “The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say rather that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope. But if a student views doctrines as concentric circles, with the cardinal doctrines occupying the center, then if the more peripheral doctrines are challenged, this does not have a significant impact on the core. In other words, the evangelical community will continue to produce liberal scholars until we learn to nuance our faith commitments a bit more, until we learn to see Christ as the center of our lives and scripture as that which points to him. If our starting point is embracing propositional truths about the nature of scripture rather than personally embracing Jesus Christ as our Lord and King, we’ll be on that slippery slope, and we’ll take a lot of folks down with us.”

  53. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 11, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    So I guess I’ll have to accept the label of “monstrous excuse for a human being.”

    Alas Ardis, I as well.

    The logical fallacies being committed in this thread are causing me to suffer. What kind of a God would create a universe in which this is permitted to happen?

    Indeed.

    Offences must come, but woe to those by whom they come.

    I am much more troubled by pain, physical and emotional, than by death

    All I can say is that I addressed the core issues in my series of posts at Mormon Matters.