Pseudo-Scholarship - Why do People Suffer?

Occasionally we stumble across (or someone recommends) a scholar touted as the ultimate answer to rebut Christianity and promote (presumably) atheism, or at the least the absurdity of Christianity. One such person is Bart Ehrman, professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. One of his books discusses the problem of why suffering exists, but let the review on his web site speak for itself:

In times of questioning and despair, people often quote the Bible to provide answers. Surprisingly, though, the Bible does not have one answer but many “answers” that often contradict one another. Consider these competing explanations for suffering put forth by various biblical writers: The prophets: suffering is a punishment for sin. The book of Job, which offers two different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; and suffering is beyond comprehension, since we are just human beings and God, after all, is God. Ecclesiastes: suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it. All apocalyptic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world. For renowned Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, the question of why there is so much suffering in the world is more than a haunting thought. Ehrman’s inability to reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of real life led the former pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church to reject Christianity. (God’s Problem)

Keep in mind a “renowned Bible scholar” teaching at a university should (must) have a greater understanding of the text of the Bible, logic, and other fundamental analysis skills than other people — it’s their fiduciary duty — and should avoid basic mistakes in logic and analysis. With that in mind, let’s examine his points and see how they stack up — does the Bible offer competing explanations for suffering as Mr. Ehrman proposes, or is his scholarship lacking?

The prophets: suffering is a punishment for sin.

Without references it’s difficult to determine what he refers to. However, it’s true sometimes sin can result in suffering (Luke 5) — the problem comes when people equate all suffering with sin, and that’s not true. So he’s partially correct in this point, sometimes sin results in suffering. Of course, if he’s claiming suffering always results from sin, he’s way off (Luke 13:4, Matt 5:45).

The book of Job, which offers two different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; and suffering is beyond comprehension, since we are just human beings and God, after all, is God.

Suffering as a test? Were those the words of Job’s friends? It’s not what God said — to see God’s view, read the last few chapters and you’ll arrive at God’s explanation — I’m God, you’re not, where were you when the foundation of the cosmos was laid? Do you have knowledge of each star and planet? If not, it’s an admission God has knowledge you don’t.

Ecclesiastes: suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it.

Written by Solomon giving man’s perspective, not God’s.

All apocalyptic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world.

That’s a bit vague, but in general correct. Man’s sin caused the decay we see in the world, and at the proper moment the corruption caused by it will be corrected.

So, if Mr. Ehrman wants to know what the Bible says about suffering, he’s somewhat correct in that several perspectives exist, but some of them are man’s, and some God’s — equating the two causes confusion (even for a “renowned Bible scholar”). If Mr. Ehrman wants to understand why suffering exists, he’d be wise to ignore man’s thoughts (which may or may not be correct), and focus on what God said. Perhaps if he did, his confusion would clear.

Perhaps Bible Scholar Ehrman doesn’t know some parts of the Bible relate historical accounts, and just because something appears in the Bible doesn’t mean God approves of it, or it represents His view. The Bible contains historical accounts of sexual immorality, murder, lying, deception, and more, but that doesn’t mean it’s God promoting (or approving) those actions. Thus Mr. Ehrman’s confusion stems (in part) from failing to distinguish man’s views from God’s in the Bible — a surprising fundamental error from a “renowned Bible scholar” teaching at a University.

Some will say we haven’t read the book, so we should not comment. But with several basic analysis and logic errors in the book summary what could the remainder of the book hold? Attempting to build a skyscraper on a shaky foundation never yields quality results. Additionally, if we purchased all the books people wanted us to, we’d have to get a second (or third) job to pay for it. If Mr. Ehrman sends a copy (it would be nice if he signed it as well), we’d read it. But otherwise, paying for reading a book which by it’s own admission provides no answers and contains basic Biblical analysis (and other logical) errors is not a profitable way to spend our time.

We’re left with God’s view on suffering — first, He’s God and has vastly more knowledge and wisdom. If we don’t understand why events occur, that should not surprise us as He’s God, we’re not. If God is God, then God is God — how big is your God? If you have the same knowledge as He, is He really God? Or just something you keep in a box for emergencies?

Second, God’s plan will run to completion, and if you read the back of the book for the answers, you’ll see it all works out in the end. How we get from point “A” to point “B” is unclear, but eventually we do get to point “B”.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 KJV)

So, you many not like what God has to say about suffering, and you may wish for more understanding, but now you’re spared reading 294 pages which fail to provide answers.

If God exists, by definition He knows more than we do, so why would it surprise us if we don’t understand some things God does? Rejecting ideas we don’t understand places a huge realm of thought off-limits — and isn’t part of a university education involve exploring ideas with an open mind? Again, it’s surprising a University scholar makes such basic errors.

Be careful upon hearing “scholars” making wild claims — they may sound scholarly, but don’t be fooled by scholarly language. The Deutero-Isaiah hypothesis, Documentary Hypothesis, Who Wrote Daniel and more all contain “scholarly” wisdom you may be trapped by, but in the end contain such basic errors you don’t need to spend your time with them, and they’re best left on the garbage heap of pseudo-scholarship.

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:21–22 KJV)

Beware of pseudo-scholarship — no matter how many Phd’s and other initials appear behind a name, or how many books published, or awards and stature, scholarship sometimes turns out to be pseudo-scholarship — Physicist Richard Feynman said if an argument can’t be made simple, it means we really don’t understand it — don’t be fooled by volumes of “scholarship” hiding a lack of understanding (in Physics we called that a “hand-waving” argument).

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