A stupid Title question. The Bible was both written and edited by MEN who themselves didn't glean any sort of answer. I wonder why ? Maybe like us today we haven't the slightest idea. David Lunn-Rockliffe
To find out why God allows suffering, we need to think back to the time when suffering began. When Satan led Adam and Eve into disobeying God, an important question was raised. Satan did not call into question God's power. Even Satan knows that there is no limit to God's power. Rather, Satan questioned God's right to rule. By calling God a liar who withholds good from his subjects, Satan charged that God is a bad ruler. (Genesis 3:2-5) Satan implied that mankind would be better off without God's rulership. This was an attack on God's sovereignty, his right to rule.
Adam and Eve rebelled against God. In effect, they said: "We do not need God as our Ruler. We can decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong." How could God settle that issue? How could he teach all intelligent creatures that the rebels were wrong and that his way truly is best? Someone might say that God should simply have destroyed the rebels and made a fresh start. But God had stated his purpose to fill the earth with the offspring of Adam and Eve, and he wanted them to live in an earthly paradise. (Genesis 1:28) God always fulfills his purposes. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) Besides that, getting rid of the rebels in Eden would not have answered the question that had been raised regarding God's right to rule.
Let us consider an illustration. Imagine that a teacher is telling his students how to solve a difficult problem. A clever but rebellious student claims that the teacher's way of solving the problem is wrong. Implying that the teacher is not capable, this rebel insists that he knows a much better way to solve the problem. Some students think that he is right, and they also become rebellious. What should the teacher do? If he throws the rebels out of the class, what will be the effect on the other students? Will they not believe that their fellow student and those who joined him are right? All the other students in the class might lose respect for the teacher, thinking that he is afraid of being proved wrong. But suppose that the teacher allows the rebel to show the class how he would solve the problem.
God has done something similar to what the teacher does. Remember that the rebels in Eden were not the only ones involved. Millions of angels were watching. (Job 38:7; Daniel 7:10) How God handled the rebellion would greatly affect all those angels and eventually all intelligent creation. So, what has God done? He has allowed Satan to show how he would rule mankind. God has also allowed humans to govern themselves under Satan's guidance.
The teacher in our illustration knows that the rebel and the students on his side are wrong. But he also knows that allowing them the opportunity to try to prove their point will benefit the whole class. When the rebels fail, all honest students will see that the teacher is the only one qualified to lead the class. They will understand why the teacher thereafter removes any rebels from the class. Similarly, God knows that all honesthearted humans and angels will benefit from seeing that Satan and his fellow rebels have failed and that humans cannot govern themselves. Like Jeremiah of old, they will learn this vital truth: "I well know, O God, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step."-Jeremiah 10:23.
WHY SO LONG?
Why, though, has God allowed suffering to go on for so long? And why does he not prevent bad things from happening? Well, consider two things that the teacher in our illustration would not do. First, he would not stop the rebel student from presenting his case. Second, the teacher would not help the rebel to make his case. Similarly, consider two things that God has determined not to do. First, he has not stopped Satan and those who side with him from trying to prove that they are right. Allowing time to pass has thus been necessary. In the thousands of years of human history, mankind has been able to try every form of self-rule, or human government. Mankind has made some advances in science and other fields, but injustice, poverty, crime, and war have grown ever worse. Human rule has now been shown to be a failure.
Second, God has not helped Satan to rule this world. If God were to prevent horrible crimes, for instance, would he not, in effect, be supporting the case of the rebels? Would God not be making people think that perhaps humans can govern themselves without disastrous results? If God were to act in that way, he would become party to a lie. However, "it is impossible for God to lie."-Hebrews 6:18.
What, though, about all the harm that has been done during the long rebellion against God? We do well to remember that God is almighty. Therefore, he can and will undo the effects of mankind's suffering. As we have already learned, the ruining of our planet will be undone by the turning of the earth into Paradise. The effects of sin will be removed through faith in Jesus' ransom sacrifice, and the effects of death will be reversed by means of the resurrection. God will thus use Jesus "to break up the works of the Devil." (1 John 3:8) God will bring all of this about at just the right time. We can be glad that he has not acted sooner, for his patience has given us the opportunity to learn the truth and to serve him. (2 Peter 3:9, 10) Meanwhile, God has been actively seeking sincere worshipers and helping them to endure any suffering that may come upon them in this troubled world.-John 4:23; 1 Corinthians 10:13.
To John Herd: Thank you for your excellent response to the discussion on "why God allows suffering". I myself had gone through Ehrman's book - God's Problem, and have read many reviews people wrote (to the book, or in many cases, just to the title). I found that your clarification is highly to the point and is unique in that you led us to see the question of suffering from the time when it all began, and how the whole big picture progresses. While Bart Ehrman, and most people, one-sidedly focus on seeing suffering solely from a created human being's perspective. Thanks.
"Let us consider an illustration. Imagine that a teacher is telling his students how to solve a difficult problem. A clever but rebellious student claims that the teacher's way of solving the problem is wrong. Implying that the teacher is not capable, this rebel insists that he knows a much better way to solve the problem. Some students think that he is right, and they also become rebellious. What should the teacher do? If he throws the rebels out of the class, what will be the effect on the other students? Will they not believe that their fellow student and those who joined him are right? All the other students in the class might lose respect for the teacher, thinking that he is afraid of being proved wrong. But suppose that the teacher allows the rebel to show the class how he would solve the problem."
This is a very nice story except for one thing: a teacher is a human, "God" is a god. Let me explain it a bit. So in your analogy there are two sets of actors. The first set consists of a teacher and a class of students. The students are further divided into two categories: rebel and non-rebel. We will assume that these actors are all human. The other set of actors consists of God and a coalition of humans and angels. God, is by nature a god, and the humans are human, and the angels are -- well angels. The humans and angels can also be sub-divided into rebel and non-rebel. Now we get to the meat. This analogy attempts to connect a teacher (human) in a classroom, the errors of a bunch of rebellious students (human) and a god (key word - god) attempting to do the same with all of his creation (consisting of angels and humans). The difference between the two is that a god has certain defined attributes. Those that are accorded to the Hebrew god are as thus: omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (in all places at once), etc. Since God is omnipotent, meaning there is nothing that he can not do, there is no reason to allow rebels to do anything. In fact being omnipotent means that nothing could happen without God's tacit approval. Any inability to act, on Gods part, would disprove the omnipotent nature of the god in question. It is totally reasonable for a teacher in this situation to use the methods you describe to teach all the students in the class. There is however, no reason for an omnipotent god to do so. Thus any pain and suffering humans have had to endure can only have existed through Gods explicit non-action. Remember omnipotent (all powerful), also means that you can get your point across to anyone (removing or suppressing dissent). To not be able to get your point across (rebellious elements rise up) is to cease to be omnipotent (all powerful). The reason the teacher has to allow the rebellious students to have their way for a time is precisely because she/he is NOT all powerful. If they were it would not be an issue.
Actually a very positive and testable idea has been put forth by a number of sources. I like Abraham's easily understood way of putting it (www.abraham-hicks.com). We all are part of Source (God/Goddess/All-That-Is -- whatever name you want to give an ineffable Being). Each of us is both in nonphysical form and physical form at the same time. Although we take on physical form when we are conceived and leave that form behind when we pass on, we are always also nonphysical. The nonphysical part of us never suffers; it never feels any of what we can call the "restrictive" emotions (anger, fear, anxiety, worry, envy, jealousy, doubt, sadness, depression, boredom, apathy, etc.). It always feels joy, wonder, enthusiasm, and that part of Ourself wants us who are in physical form to feel joy, too. We feel restrictive emotions whenever we are out of tune with Source, whenever we have thoughts and attitudes that are not positive, that are negatively self-critical or critical of others. We feel expansive emotions (happiness, peace, harmony, joy, etc.) whenever we have positive thoughts about ourselves and others. Thus we have an emotional guidance system that allows us to know when we are in tune or not with Source, our nonphysical Self.
Source is a Creator. We are creators. We are here to create, to manifest our ideas, inspirations, in physical form. We each create our own reality -- totally. No exceptions. There is no such thing as chance, fate, luck, etc. We do this either with conscious awareness (yogis, enlightened New Age meditators, etc.) or without conscious awareness (subconsciously or while in the dream state). Most people create their reality without the conscious awareness of doing so. However, everyone can learn to do so consciously.
Source is also Divine Love. We are also Lovers. We are here to love ourselves, and after loving ourselves, to love others.
The physical world is a world of polarity, of both restrictive and expansive emotions. By the Law of Attraction, a universal law, we attract to ourselves anything that is of a similar vibration or resonance. When we think negative thoughts and feel unhappy (angry, etc.), we attract negative conditions, events, etc. When we think positive thoughts and feel happy, we attract positive conditions, events. etc. So what we need to do is to make a daily effort to think positively and to love ourselves. Doing so requires retraining our mental habits.
When we who are in physical form desire something (Step One), Source (the nonphysical part of ourselves) immediately creates it in nonphysical form (Step Two). Then all we who are in physical form have to do is to allow it to manifest physically (Step Three). What we desire will come into physical manifestation if we have no resistance. This resistance is often subconscious -- core, hidden beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes that oppose what we desire in some way. We are not consciously aware of them. However, since the point of our power is always NOW and since this present power is zillions of times stronger than anything that belongs to the past, we can change these core beliefs. This is our power of choice -- the power to choose at any moment what we want to believe. There is no absolute truth. Truth is simply "that which one believes and which one thinks everyone else should believe, too." All truths (beliefs) are relative.
We are meant to focus our attention on our immediate physical reality, that which we perceive with our physical senses. Our physical bodies have been set up that way. We are not in physical form to worry about what is happening on the other side of the world. When we worry, we feel unhappy. When we feel unhappy, we are out of tune with Source, with our nonphysical Self, who is always joyful, exuberant, and full of life and who always knows exactly who we are and what we need and what we desire. Source always sees the Good (if I may use that term). Source always maintains its loving resonance. He/she/it/the nonphysical "I" never gets angry, upset, worried, bored, sad, etc. Those emotions are limited strictly to us while in physical form, and we feel them only when we are out of tune with Source, out of tune with that part of us which is nonphysical.
Once again, Source is NOT aware of suffering. Suffering does not exist in the consciousness of All-That-Is. Only we who are in physical form are aware of suffering, and we are aware of it only when we are out of tune with Source. When we are in tune with Source, we attract (by the Law of Attraction) only positive experiences, positive people, positive events, beauty, harmony. We see only the positive that is around us. We attract according to our resonance, our rate of vibration. In that way, we perceive ourselves when we perceive others. We have constant feedback in our environment about the results of past thinking and beliefs. As we change our thoughts and attitudes (our resonance, our rate of vibration), we change our environment, our experiences.
The stories, etc. in the various "books" of the Bible reflect the consciousness of the people who told and heard them and who later wrote them down and of the communities who read them. It is the choice of each of us how much influence we want any of the biblical beliefs to have in our lives. Do we feel happy (or at least relieved) when we read a particular verse or passage? Our emotions guide us in our growth. Freedom, growth, and joy are the three keys to life. Do I feel happy when I say to myself, "I am not worthy"? Do I feel happy when I say to myself, "I am a sinner"? Do I feel emotionally and physically safe and at ease when I read about a god who punishes those who disobey him or about a devil called Satan or about evil spirits? Do those beliefs help me feel joy? Do I feel happy when I read the story of Job, about a man who suffers because "God" has allowed "Satan" to test him? If not, then I will stop reading it. As Seth (channeled through Jane Roberts) said, "If you don't enjoy it, stop doing it," and further "When you do what you enjoy doing, you lead your self to your Self" (or words to that effect), which is pretty much what Abraham (who is Source, by the way)-- channeled through Betty Hicks, is saying.
I hope that this helps those of you who are reading it to feel greater joy. :)
Robert C. says "God is a god" and "there is no reason" for God to not simply use his omnipotence to crush rebellion. No reason? Robert C. obviously does not think like God does. In his love for us, he wants us to learn to recognize his love for us, not simply to be in fear of his power.
Consider this analogy. God is the builder, owner and captain of the earth, in metaphor a ship, on which we are all passengers. A high-ranking officer (Satan) leads a mutiny, supported by other officers (fallen angels, or demons,) and supported by the vast majority of the ship's passengers (mankind), who are following the example of their patriarch, Adam. The rebels demand that the ship's owner turn the bridge over to Satan, as Captain.
God has warned the passengers against this, but agrees to their demand, saying, "You want him in command instead of me? OK. (Luke 4:6, 1 John 5:19). Let's see how that works out for you. When you realize your mistake, get back to me." That is, repent (2 Peter 3:9). God gets on his helicopter, and flies away.
6,000 years later, the mutineers have steered the ship into hurricanes, collided with icebergs, run aground, run out of food, and endured countless internal conflicts. This is human suffering. The ship is taking on water, and can't stay afloat much longer without help from the owner.
Robert C. misses the point. God isn't interested in proving his power, which is undeniable. Like John C. Herd's teacher, he wants the mutineers to learn from their mistake. But Satan, the Captain, knows that he can blame the all-powerful owner of the ship, and most of the passengers will buy that lie and blame him rather than confess their own bad judgment. But the passengers have brought suffering upon themselves.
The rightful Captain, God Almighty, out of his love for us, wants the few sensible ones aboard to realize that he is the ship's builder, owner, and rightful Captain, and that he has allowed us to live on his ship, and we should be grateful to Him, the only competent Captain. The few who understand this will be allowed into the lifeboats, while he throws the mutineers overboard (Psalm 91:7
I call Ehrman's book not God's Problem but Ehrman's Problem, thinking it rather an act of hubris to assume the problem is God's. C.S. Lewis, in his The Problem of Pain, was much more theologically sophisticated, probably because Lewis was a much more brilliant and subtle thinker than Ehrman, and had a broader vision of spirituality.
While Ehrman's credentials as a scripture scholar are solid, it's striking that he started out as a fundamentalist and maybe for that reason has a literal cast of mind. Metaphor, poetry, and mysticism don't seem to be in his religious vocabulary. Yes, he touches lightly on the "mystery of faith," but dismisses its relevance to suffering, maybe because faith is exactly what he doesn't have. Ehrman seems to think the Pauline doctrine of the atonement-based on the primitive Jewish idea of a scapegoat-is the only way a Christian can think. Nowadays, liberal theologians reject this outworn notion in favor of Christ's own vision of a loving God. The suffering and death of Jesus was not to satisfy the bloodlust of an angry God, but an act of love, heroic self-emptying, a model for human relationship, and a glimpse into the heart of God. Or so I think.
Ehrman is a man of the Book, who used to idolize the Bible and now, as a mature man, rejects it as an answer to the problem of evil, something that any book, however grand, cannot be. It seems to me that he once expected the Book to be the ultimate authority, God's own word, in the area of faith and is dismayed to find out it is only a flawed, evolving human interpretation of events beyond limited human understanding. His judgment seems to be based on the notion "If I were God, I would be nice to everyone. People suffer. Therefore, God is not nice," which I think most would agree is a pretty sophomoric formulation. There is more to the cosmos and to the human place in it than pain, a petard on which Ehrman has hoisted himself and now obsesses about in a way I remember doing at age 18. I got over it, as do most people who give the matter any mature thought, having learned (through suffering, actually) that faith is not about arguments in a book but about an experiential relationship with the living God.
One paragraph, to my mind, gives away Ehrman's weakness as a religious critic. He confides that he thinks there's nothing more wonderful in life than talking with friends over "fine scotch" and "fine cigars." "It just doesn't get any better than that," he says smugly. I say smug, because while he was elegantly smoking and drinking, people like Mother Teresa, despite their crises of faith, picked dying people off the streets and loved them as if they were Christ himself. Ehrman's approach seems to be that life is supposed to be easy and fun. He takes the rationalist, hedonist position all the way through the book and does the consistent thing-leaves Christianity. Why am I not surprised? To me, one spiritual experience is worth a lifetime of scotch, cigars, and good conversation. But in our hedonistic, reductionist culture, anything that interferes with having a good time seems to be evidence that either 1) God doesn't love us or 2) God is dead, so eat, drink, and be merry. Surely, surely, there's more to life than fun.
I'm editing a book, The Unveiling of God, by a Canadian mystic who lives in a continual, mysterious state of deep joy and love, despite a lifetime of almost unimaginable suffering. I'm also reading Rabindranath Tagore's magnificent book, Sadhana, which makes Ehrman's view of religion sound like a tinkling cymbal. Ehrman, the liberated hedonist, may enjoy his tenure, his scotch and his cigars. Meanwhile, the divine Krishna in the Hindu Vedas opens his mouth and the suffering Arjuna sees in it the whole radiant, interwoven cosmos, then stops boo-hooing about his personal pain. That's one reason I think some version of an eternal soul, incarnated over the eons to learn by experience of good and bad, is closer to answering the problem of evil than is Ehrman's easy dismissal of the biblical God. Many Christians and Jews believed in such an idea, which was axed by the church in the 4th century. Ehrman's discussion is by no means the last word on the problem of pain.
Your dismissal of the traditions common to most people in the world throughout history as "New Age" is too facile. Any spiritual answers to the problem of pain are worth considering seriously. Do you mean "apologetics" when you say "apologies?" By "old-fashioned apologies [sic]" do you mean such books as C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain and G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy? Both of these fall into the category of Christian Apologetics. Or do you dismiss them too? Where you're coming from is not clear from your once sentence argument.
Your dismissal of the traditions common to most people in the world throughout history as "New Age" is too facile. Any spiritual answers to the problem of prain are worth considering seriously. Do you mean "apologetics" when you say "apologies?" By "old-fashioned apologies [sic]" do you mean such books as C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain and G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy? Both of these fall into the category of Christian Apologetics. Or do you dismiss them too? Where you're coming from is not clear from your airy sentence.
The problem exists only if one insists on reading the Bible literally. A metaphoric reading of this poetic document makes more sense. Many mythic accounts around the world cast the war between good and evil in anthropomorphic terms, not allowing for the possibility that the Creator of a universe as vast as ours combines what we in our limited vision call "good" and "evil." "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower" is basically benevolent and life-supporting. But all created things come to an end, some sooner than we think they should. Spiritual teachings help us to come to terms with that melancholy truth and how to accept the Mystery that we call God. Jesus taught that the best answer we can find is to see God as love, act in the spirit of that love, and leave unsolvable problems alone.
I agree that the Genesis creation myth was written (and should be read) as a metaphor. My own interpretation is that humanity will choose knowledge over idyllic ignorance, but certainly other interpretations are possible.
I also believe that human beings are among the creatures which are capable of acting in the spirit of love, and that it is good to exercise that ability as often as possible. Doing so will usually help to make this imperfect world more enjoyable for ourselves and others. Recognizing that no gods are acting to prevent suffering, we do what we can for each other.
Maybe another reading of the Genesis myth, in view of the human tendency to fundamentalist thinking, is that we don't so much choose "knowledge over ignorance" as (ideally) grow past innocence to a point where we CAN choose knowledge. I don't think this myth is telling us that humans will choose wisely. Could we, as the race evolves, choose to keep something of childhood's open-hearted innocence/ignorance even as we attempt to untangle good from evil? Might the real choice be to balance analysis with empathy, not totally separating ourselves from the object of our knowing, as traditional scientific knowing often does? Is such balance even possible once we've eaten the fruit? Suffering god-figures like Jesus, Baldur, and Osiris seem to achieve such a balance, so I'm not sure we should entirely write-off the influence of gods when trying to deal with the problem of pain.
Unfortunately, the current fad among Christian fundamentalists is to choose ignorance over knowledge, rejecting evolution to cling to a literal belief in the Genesis myth, for example. Fortunately, in most areas outside the United States, such fundamentalists constitute a small percentage of the population.
I don't know why you're saddling emotions like empathy with ignorance. To me, empathy requires observation and understanding. While I agree that providing aid and comfort to those who are suffering will often involve setting aside scientific objectivity, I don't think science requires people to abandon their humanity. Many clinical trials have ended early when the demonstrated effectiveness of a course of treatment made it clear that maintaining a control group which was denied such treatment would increase suffering. It isn't obvious to me that "the influence of gods" is a necessary component of humane behavior.
Was it C G Jung who said that he didn't see psychic health in people over 35 unless they had some form of religious belief? It's hard for those of us who were bred in the pitiless world of realism and naturalism that prevailed in the mid-twentieth century to acknowledge even the possibility of a spiritual, non-sensate dimension to human life. Post-Newtonian physics has shaken the certainties of the "realists" by finding more paradoxical aspects to experience than were dreamt of in the philosophy of materialists who thought they had finally got rid of Spirit. We may well be hard-wired to believe in some divine Force that unites us with the natural world and with each other. If we are, then a million years of evolution toward a higher understanding of that force would be wasted if we sink further into a reductionist bog. Does it really serve the moral and social order to give up any belief in a divinity that shapes our ends and gives more meaning to our lives other than mere grabbing as much sex, money, and power as we can? That goal is the logical consequence of living entirely for oneself in a disenchanted world, without myth, metaphor, and faith. The current crop of alienated, jaded, drugged youth in "developed" cultures might indicate that neither literalistic creeds nor atheistic materialism are useful for healthy human development. Rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, I think we might re-imagine Divinities as moral guides accessible to visionary, unitive experience. Materialism, I think, has reached a dead end, and the sad moral and social disarray of our culture is the result. I wonder if we need to evolve a Creed for the Third Millennium-what would it look like if we internalized a belief that we are not just random individuals but part of a network, much as stars are woven into their galaxies? What if the Hindu greeting of Namaste-the divinity in me greets the divinity in you-is a fundamental truth, not an impossible, outworn notion?
All this is a roundabout way of saying that mere scientific observation and analysis are not enough to create empathy/love. Experiment and experience are different in kind. It seems obvious to me, in view of our current political and social disorder, that we need something more than scientific knowledge to be fully human.