Back in 2010 Bart Ehrman recorded a lecture series for the Biblical Archaeology Society entitled, God, The Bible & Human Suffering. In this series there are 4 lectures on human suffering and God and time, space and my readers’ attention spans do not permit a detailed analysis of his lectures, so we will only hit a couple of main points. We only actually need to use a couple of points for the issue of suffering does not need 4 hour long lectures to explore why it takes place.
While Dr. Ehrman hit on all points of the issue and provided the correct answer, though he did not accept that answer we need to address these points for those who do not have the time to listen to all 4 lectures.
#1. Sinners in the hand of an angry God
This is the title to the first lecture and it is also the title to the famous Jonathon Edwards sermon which sparked a revival in his time. Instead of dismissing this idea like Dr. Ehrman does people really should take into consideration what it really means to be an unrepentant sinner facing a God who has patiently endured their sinful antics.
God has long warned people of the wages of sin thus they have no excuse when they come before the judgment seat. Not only were Noah’s flood and Sodom and Gomorrah warnings to people but we have a host of examples throughout the Old and New Testaments & Jesus himself warning us of what will happen if we do not repent and accept God’s offer of salvation.
Eternal suffering is due to the choices we make as God has chosen that all may might be saved but left that determination up to the individual human. We cannot blame God for being angry and sentencing anyone to hell because they refused to take that little step of faith and repent of their sins.
#2. The Killing Fields of Cambodia
This was a point raised by Dr. Ehrman as he wondered if that atrocity was an act of God to punish people for their sins. There will be some who say that it was an act of God and that he used the Khmer Rouge to inflict divine punishment upon a sinful people but we must ask, why only were the Cambodians the target when the rest of the nations of the world at that time were just as sinful as they?
Does God use suffering as a means to get people to repent? Probably but it may just be that the suffering endured by certain people is the result of their bad choices and then, like the prodigal son, they compare their current life to what they had with God and decided to repent and go back to him. Unless we have clear direction from God on this issue, It is really hard to determine if God brought the suffering because he wants specific people to clean up their lives or if the suffering is the result of the rebellious choices made by those specific individuals.
Some people may bring up the Tsunami of 2004 and say that devastation was a punishment by God. If it was, why didn’t we all know about it? The credibility of the people who claim it was is often suspect and do not bring a clear motive as to why God would do such a thing without warning. If we look at Jonah as an example, we see God bringing a warning to the people first from a real prophet, whom everyone knew was of God, to a sinful people and he gave them time to repent.
We see no such warning or grace period in that Tsunami or other tragic natural events. This type of suffering takes place because corruption is in the world and people listen to evil people over God’s voice or representatives.
#3. God is all Loving
This is a long-standing argument used by people to attack God and discredit his words in the Bible. They say, how can a loving God allow suffering? Well God has provided a way out of suffering but few people choose to take that route. As the Bible says, ‘few find the straight and narrow path to salvation.’ Most people do not want to wait till they die to get free from suffering, they want paradise on earth, and they want it now.
The problem for those people is that the earth is not a paradise but a corrupted and sinful place. Paradise cannot exist here and this means that suffering will continue for if a loving God wipes out suffering then he must end this world and end the opportunity for men to be saved. You cannot have your cake and eat it to in this issue.
Death, disease and other afflictions exist in this present world and since a loving God cannot violate his rules, he will not end suffering or remove the sin nature from humans until they repent of their sins. The only way we can escape suffering, for the most part, is to die as believers in Jesus and be taken to heaven where no sin or corruption exists.
#4. God is all-powerful
Yes God is all-powerful and he could in a blink in of an eye wipe out all suffering… but… and we discussed some of the ‘but’ reasons in the point immediately above. he could remove all suffering but if he does not remove the source for corruption and sin, then suffering will return. If he removes the source of corruption and sin, which brings forth suffering, then he must end the world as we know it. We know this end is coming and the full story of that end means that those who did not repent of their sins, will be sent to hell for eternity
Unfortunately, people like Dr. Ehrman do not want to repent of their sins to gain this end of suffering. They want to be given it just as they are. This attitude shows the true nature of those who make these arguments against God while using suffering as their reason to reject God and his salvation. They are selfish. They do not care about God or his desires or his holy nature but feel that they are entitled to this end of suffering without having to do anything to get it.
They refuse to accept the fact that they may be responsible for some of the suffering they endure. They refuse to accept that other people, while not bible scholars, make the same choice they did and rejected God’s salvation and his way of doing things, found throughout the bible, and seek evil or let greed dictate their life’s path and they do not care who they hurt in the process.
They just do not want to put the blame where it lies and decide to accuse God of things he did not do or make him out to be some big bad bully who uses suffering to whip his creation into shape. If people used their power of free choice to follow God and his ways, to help others instead of hurting them, you would see a lot less suffering in the world.
God has provided instructions and commands to alleviate suffering on this planet. It is not his fault that his own creation chose to ignore those guidelines and took to following the directives from evil. God has provided an answer to suffering but far too many people ignore that answer and go their own way. Even Christians do it so we cannot point a finger at just the unbeliever.
Suffering comes for many reasons. it will be a part of life God calls time and ends it all. If we want to lessen suffering then we need to get those refusing to follow God and his ways to change their minds and repent of their sins. We need to convince them to stop listening to evil and start listening to God. We also need to make better choices in our lives. Some battered women would not be battered if they listen to the warnings God provided through friends and family. The marry the wrong guy and end up being a punching bag because they refused to listen to God but went with bad emotional ideas.
Sometimes suffering comes because of the choices of others. That is why people are called ‘victims.’ They are the prey for those who want to do evil and they may not have done anything wrong. So suffering is not just because we sinned bit because others have chosen to sin. The key is we have to endure suffering because this world is corrupt and suffering will always be a part of a corrupt world.