Does the Bible Provide an Adequate answer the problem of Suffering ?

Notes on a debate between Dr. Michael Brown vs Dr. Bart Ehrman

Opening round - Each participant has 20 minutes

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Dr. Brown - an Old Testament Scholar and a Messianic Jewish apologist. He has a PhD in Near Eastern languages from New York University . He is the author of 20 books. His books include the highly acclaimed 5 volume series answering Jewish objections to Jesus. He is an adjunct professor at four leading seminaries.

Dr. Ehrman - He is the author of more than 20 books including two New York Times best sellers: "Misquoting Jesus" and "God's Problem: How the Bible fails to explain our most important question - Why we Suffer?" He is a professor at North Carolina.

20 minute start for each debater:

First - - Dr. Brown -

The authors of the Bible themselves provide some of the best challenges against God ! Job paints God as wicked at times and one who turns his eyes from sufferers. However, the Bible does provide an adequate answer to the problem of suffering. In effect, remove God and all is lost, there is no solution to the problem - - and if you remove God, you don't have a problem with suffering - - it's just survival of the fittest. But, if you believe that there's purpose, and meaning and morality to life then you recognize that suffereing and evil are a problem.

The Bible tells us what we need to know - - not what we want to know- - it doesn't answer why there's so much evil and suffering - - it does say we should protest that something is wrong- - we were designed for life - - not for suffering and death.. That's why we're so repulsed when suffering and death comes into the world.. We are living in a world that is fallen and broken , and at the same time, blessed. So, we live in a world that has tsunamis - and sunshine- - a world of contradictions - - a world created in the image of God and yet fallen..... Therefore, the human race is capable of incredible good and incredible wickedness - - and sometimes we see that in our own heart....

Love requires freedom - - Our choice to love God is made out of freedom - we are not coerced into loving God - - but with that choice - we have an equal choice to reject God. The choice to reject God has caused disastrous consequences in this world - - CS Lewis said. try to exclude the possibility of suffering and you have excluded life itself- free will, though it makes evil possible, it's the only thing that makes possible any love worth having."

But - we live in a transition period- - God's kingdom is not totally here and His perfect will is not being fully carried out.....During this transition age there is much evil and suffering. This transition period is only the beginning - - and God is at work during this transition period - - He can take the evil things that people do in this world and turn them into a greater good - - (consider the tragic event that put Joni EarecksonTada in a wheelchair and what God has done through her life to bring many to Him). If there's no world to come than suffering has no meaning! Life is purposeless without a world to come - - if there is a world to come, our life is chapters in a great big book - - that has meaning! Good will drive out evil - Love will drive out hate....

1. There can be a redemptive side to suffering - God can bring good out of evil - - The story of Joseph is appropriate. Alexander Soltzenitsyn sais "thank you, prison, for being in my life". It doesn't happen in the case of every tragedy - - but if you beleive, the Bible promises that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose- - this is a promise that will take place in this world or the next! We can grow through suffering - - Suffering can build character and compassion- -

2. Sometimes our sin causes our suffering - we cant blame God for the mess we put ourselves in!

3. God is hurt by tragedy and suffering- He cares deeply and is suffering with us...."God permits what he hates, to achieve what he loves" - Joni Eareckson Tada. There is purpose and meaning to life - - take God out of the equation - - and there is no purpose..... Remember- He sent Jesus to die for our sins - - God loves us and He takes suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it on Himself at the cross.. Therefore, He didn't cause it - - because He solved it at the cross!

4. The lesson of Job- a - Sometimes, inexplicable tragedy happens. b- There's alot we dont know - - We can't tell God how to run his universe! c-when the sufferer has a personal encounter with God, there are no more questions. Corrie Ten Boom said, "Now I know from experience that Jesus' light is stronger than the deepest darkness. There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still."

Second - - Dr. Ehrman -

He was a committed Christian in high school, went to Moody Bible Institute for College, then to Wheaton College, then to Princeton Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. Then he taught at Rutgers University to teach on the topic of suffering. He found that biblical authors conflicted on the subject of suffering.

To list a few of the explanations for suffering in the Bible that are not satisfacory:

Amos chapter 3 speaks of why the Jews will suffer a military defeat - - and that is, that God will punish them for not observing His will and doing His ways...Amos 3 v10 - - “They do not know how to do right,” declares the LORD, “who store up in their fortresses what they have plundered and looted.” 11 Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “An enemy will overrun your land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses ."

Why is this? Becasue God was not worshipped properly....

Consider Amos Ch.4 - Israel Has Not Returned to God 1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” 2 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. 3 You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon,” declares the LORD. 4 “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. 5 Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings— boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign LORD. 6 “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 7 “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. 8 People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 9 “Many times, I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 10 “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 11 “I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD. 12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God.” 13 He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the LORD God Almighty is his name.

So - God caused the suffering - - God brings the suffering..... and this is the message of all the prophets .. pick any book of the bible - - God causes the suffering - he punishes them for their sins....... did he cause the earthqauke in haiti and kill 300,000 of them becasue he was angry with them???? Is that ok? Did he leave 100 million haitans homeless - - because he was angry?

There are other solutions for suffering - consider the book of Job- - Ehrman believes that Job is a book with 2 different authors -- one who wrote the beginning (Ch 1-2)and end -- and one who wrote the middle part. Under God's instruction - satan takes away everything - - including killing Job's 10 children....In the end, Job is restored - and gets alot back- - and also gets 10 children back - 10 new children - - Ehrman finds this as the most offensive verse in the Bible- - he relates it to the innocent suffering of Jews in WWII --as if its ok to kill 6 million Jews in WWII and have 6 million more born in the next gemeration is ok - -

So- God allows suffering to Job to test him - - Job hasn't done anything wrong - - God just wants to test him.....To see if Job would curse him - - is that really worth the cost?

When you come to Job's friends - - they took the position that God punished you when you sin - - this is the same position as all the prophets in the Old Testament....Job doesnt know why this is happening to him, so Job asks to plead his case before God.....Job knows God is the Almighty - - but God doesn't let Job plead his case - - Ehrman says - - "God overwhelms Job with His almightiness"... God comes back with 77 questions to Job - but Job is an innocent man who just wants to know why he's suffering! Then God tells Jobto repent in dust and ashes - and Ehram asks - "repent of what? - Job didn't do anything!"

Job didn't do anything ! In effect, God is saying - "you have no reason to ask why this is happening"

It's true that some people cause others to suffer - - no question....that's a reason for suffering but it's not the total answer - - here's 4 reasons why.....

1. God sometimes intervenes in order that no suffering takes place - why doesn't He do it more/all the time? If I ask - will I be squashed like Job was?

2. Can free will explain why there is a tsunami tha kills 300,000? earthqaukes that kill? Sure - free will is a reason that some men choose evil to others - - but it doesn't explain natural disasters that kill people.

3. In Daniel and Revelation, the Bible provides other answers for suffering- - that God is not causing the problem -- it's not people either - - but there is evil in the world and God will, eventually, overthrow these evil forces and setup his kingdom on earth...... Revelation, in fact, says to "hold on for a little while longer" and God will intervene..... In Mark, it says "some of the apostles standing there won't taste death until the kingdom of Christ will come into power"....... But it never happens - - is this a valid hope?

4. what about cancer, wars, suicide, birth defects, failed marriages, poverty, starvation, genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Darfur, Rawanda, and in 1918, the flu that killed 30 million Americans! The Bible is all about God intervening- in the Old Testament, God intervened and saved his people from slavery in Egypt, in the New Testament, Jesus intervens to save his people from their sins.

The Bible is all about God intervening- - If God intervenes - - why doesn't He?

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