Friday, May 09, 2008

Wright Ehrman debate

I got asked in a comment last week what were my reactions to the Wright-Ehrman debate on pain/suffering that I linked to last week. So here's my reaction.

There is a level on which I find Ehrman's arguments very compelling, and it's hard not to. There can definitely be a cognitive disconnect between the idea of a loving God that cares so much for each of us that He sent His Son to die as a sacrifice and be resurrected as the first fruit of the new creation who also "lets" children die of starvation and crippling diseases. But it's also not a new problem. It's not something that people have only recently been dealing with.

I think my basic reaction is that I sincerely hope that what NT Wright talks about is true. I have faith that it is true, but also doubts that it could be. Perhaps I don't have the faith of a child anymore. It's like the old Caedmon's Call song says, "My faith is like shifting sand..." and so on the days that I find it difficult to stand on faith, I find myself standing on hope and grace. That's where I am on this.

What I really liked the best was the end of Ehrman's last statement, that being that even if we don't know the reasons for suffering we can still have the proper response to it. And that, to me, is a very Christ-like thing to say.


Brent said...

Thanks, Phil.

"It's not something that people have only recently been dealing with."

This is one of the reasons I have arrived at my present stance that man created God in his image rather than the reverse.

The ancients attributed most, if not all, happenings in the world to God (or the gods). If it rained, it was because of God. If a volcano erupted, same thing. God decided what sex a baby would be. God was in charge of everything. Of course, people could influence God (or the gods) by their sacrifices, prayers, and obedience of laws set forth by those who communicated with God/gods.

When Deuteronomy was written (after the Babylonian exile, according to scholars) the leaders of the Jewish people told their history by having Moses share the blessings and curses found in chapters 29-31 (I think). This explained the reason why the events of the exile occurred and also explained what would happen in their future, depending on their actions.

The problem with this approach to viewing the world is that it just isn't the way things seem to work. Good people suffer and bad people prosper. There doesn't seem to be any differentiation except natural consequences of cause and effect. People who pray to God/gods have the same things happen to them as everyone else. God doesn't have anything to do with it.

Wright deals with the issue by maintaining a theistic assumption. Though I can appreciate his treatment of the sacred Christian and Jewish texts, he still tries to answer the important question of God and suffering by plugging it into the bible and the "God hypothesis." The approach doesn't seem to work, IMHO, and leaves questions unanswered. I believe that this is the case because the God hypothesis is incorrect.

Keith Brenton said...

I can't really expect to add anything beyond what two prominent religious thinkers can say more eloquently, but I think folks who believe that man created God have trouble accepting that man would create a God who knows and understands things more deeply than man does. That's a cop-out to them, and I can't blame them for their disdain. It would be a cop-out to me, too; if I didn't believe in God.

Fact is, there are just lots of things in life we don't understand.

If there's a God, why does He allow sin - like people hurting others - in the world? My answer: I don't know. Maybe He planted two trees in the garden east of Eden so that good could stand in comparison to evil and people could choose between them freely, a greater good than being righteous robots preprogrammed to do His will.

If there's a God, why does He allow suffering and pain in the world? My answer: I don't have a clue. Maybe so people could see the result of their hurting of others, their sin - even against someone innocent like His Son - and sense deep within themselves the inherent injustice and wrongness of it.

If there's a God, why does He allow death in the world? My answer: I'm caught brainless. I think death has served its purpose. I think God does, too. Maybe because, having experienced death Himself - in the person of His Son - He wants nothing more desperately that to obliterate death forever. So He does, by bringing His Son back to life, letting us know what He wants to do for everyone who will not bring pain-giving and hurt-giving into His eternity.

Those are my guesses. They make sense to me. If they seem like a cop-out to you, just understand that they make more sense to me than a uncreated, random world in which everybody does what she or he wants to and thinks is right, without ever making a connection to the hurt or detriment of others.

preacherman said...

I want you to kknow that I love your blog. It is wonderful. Keep up the great work. I hope it is okay to add your blog to my favs.

I was also wondering if you and your reader could stop by my blog and pray and leave an encouraging comment for a family who desparately needs it. Please...You can make a difference in the lives of an entire family.

Thank you brother and my God's richest blessing fall on you now and forever more.
I will visit as much as possible.
I hope you have wonderful Sunday.

In Him,
Kinney Mabry
Kinney Mabry

Brian said...

I think the whole issue of physical suffering etc being discussed here makes it very easy to believe in the old Greek (I think) separation between the physical and the spiritual. We all know that God is spirit and the flesh is doomed to die, so why even take time to wonder about why there is suffering or death. It's the spirit that lives on. Of course this line of thought allows us to do whatever we want to our bodies (and the bodies of others) because the flesh has no lasting value. It is only a vehicle to carry our spirits for a few decades. Even the Spanish Inquisitors believed this when they killed "infidels" because they (the infidels) were going to hell, so why not send them there now, so that they don't have to linger and suffer more on earth. It was an act of mercy, in a perverted way of thinking.

Perhaps suffering simply exists as a general physical condition that cannot be escaped or bypassed. Even solar systems are born and die.

I believe we feel compassion for sufferers who are unknown to us personally because we have a spirit that reflects the character of God. Perhaps this is the main reason for suffering - it allows us to reflect God's love into a world that is going to die regardless of what we want or do.

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