Today, in my Modern Christian Thought class, I showed the opening argument from Bart Ehrman's debate with Dinesh D'Souza at Gordon College. Ehrman discusses his spiritual pilgrimage from his early days as an evangelical Christian, while attending Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, to his later acceptance of Agnosticism. In the clip that I showed, Ehrman explains that he turned away from Christianity after thinking about how there could be an all-powerful, all-loving God who allows suffering in the world.
Ehrman briefly argues that the biblical authors contradict one another on the topic of suffering, sometimes saying that it is the result of sin while at other times claiming that suffering takes place for no apparent reason. Ehrman further reasons that if humans have free will (and thus God cannot force them to do anything), and if free will exists in heaven (which is supposedly a place without suffering) then it is possible that God could have created a world without any pain. If it is true that God could have created a world without suffering, then the Judeo-Christian God of the OT and NT must not exist since injustices and devastating natural disasters occur all the time.
The students and I pondered some of the questions related to the theodicy after watching the video clip. What I found interesting about Ehrman is that he denies that suffering can be redemptive. He believes that if it is possible that suffering cannot take place, it should not take place. That is to say, there is no value for suffering; hardships serve no higher purpose.
Anyone who is a parent knows that this is unsound reasoning. No good and loving parent would allow his or her child to go undisciplined (I'm not speaking of physical abuse). And as parents know, children who learn the value of discipline, live healthier lives. If I gave my children everything that they wanted, they could potentially grow up to be spoiled adults and unproductive members of society.
On a more personal basis, I believe that suffering can be redemptive. Of course experiencing pain is no fun, especially during the time of difficulty, but in retrospect I can see how the benefits of some of the challenges that I experienced added value to my life. By arguing that God must act a certain way in order to be the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, Ehrman assumes that he knows what holds ultimate value, in this life and potentially the next. This view strikes me as not only arrogant but incredibly naive. I certainly am not willing to say that I know how the world should operate, and how the God of the Bible should act. If I did, then I would be God.