Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bart Ehrman and Michael Brown Debate Suffering

Yesterday, I listened to a debate between Michael Brown and Bart Ehrman on whether the Bible provides a sufficient answer for suffering.  Michael Brown argued yes, while Bart Ehrman argued no.  Both are biblical scholars.  You can read about Michael Brown here, and Bart Ehrman here.

It was a good debate.  Ehrman impressed me more than he usually does in debates of his that I have watched.  He was passionate and made his points well.  Michael Brown was good, too.

In terms of which side impressed me more, I tended to agree more with Ehrman about the Bible being a diverse book on the question of human suffering—-that sometimes suffering is treated in the Bible as a punishment from God, whereas other voices in the Bible see unfairness in terms of who suffers and who prospers.  I’m open to what Brown was arguing—-that God’s punishment of wicked Israel in the Bible does not mean that all suffering is from God, that there are scholars who believe Job’s dead children will be in the World to Come, according to the Book of Job (I’m curious as to who believes this), etc.  But, overall, Ehrman made a better biblical case, in my opinion.

Brown still raised good points, though.  If there is no God, what hope do we have that suffering will end or that sufferers will find peace or justice?  Brown also pointed to the Christians who are actually doing something about suffering in the world, and he asked if Ehrman’s worldview could inspire that kind of self-sacrifice.

That’s actually a good question.  Do I need the hope of a good afterlife to do good in the world?  No.  But I may need it to do good in a sacrificial manner.  I think of a post I read a while back by Rebecca Trotter, about a guy who took the blame for something illegal his employee did, since she had a family and he didn’t want the family to suffer.  He suffered for a long time as a result of this decision, and he later regretted it.  (Sorry, I can’t find the post.)  Where I am now—-as one who hopes there is a good afterlife but is not quite sure—-would I perform such an act of self-sacrifice?  No.

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