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Q&A | May 20, 2013 0 comments
Describe your latest work. When I started working on Plant-Thinking in 2008, I had no idea that the project would turn out to be as broad as it did.... Continue »
Bart D. EhrmanDescribe your latest project.
Twenty-five years ago I taught a university course called "The Problem of Suffering in the Biblical Traditions." In it, we looked at different biblical answers to why there is suffering in the world if there is a loving and all-powerful God in control of it. This is the basic question of what is called "theodicy" (= the problem of God's justice): if God is all loving, he doesn't want people to suffer, but to thrive; if he is all powerful, he is able to prevent suffering in all its forms; and yet there is suffering. How does one explain all three statements? How can they all be true at once? That's the question of theodicy, and it was the question that, in my class, we asked of a range of biblical authors and writings, from the Old Testament Prophets to the New Testament apostle Paul, from Job to Jesus, from Genesis to Revelation.
In the years since the course, I've continued to ponder, puzzle, wonder, and reflect on this problem. In those intervening years, largely because of these reflections, I moved from being a committed church-going Christian to become an agnostic. I no longer know whether God exists. But if he does exist, I'm convinced that he is not the God I was raised to believe in, a God who intervenes in history on behalf of his people to answer their prayers and to save them from their pain.
In God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question Why We Suffer, I tell the story of my spiritual journey in order to set up the big question: How does the Bible deal with the problem of suffering? What I show in the book is that different biblical authors had very different answers to the question. Some of these answers cannot be reconciled with one another (the prophets Amos with Daniel, Job or Ecclesiastes with Revelation; and so on). Still, all of them have been sources of hope and inspiration for believing people over the centuries, and continue to be so today.
This then is a very personal book for me, about the most important question that we as humans face, based on the most important set of religious texts in our civilization, and rooted in my own personal struggles over how to make sense of this world of pain and suffering that is according to the biblical authors under the control of a good and loving God.
I'll name two authors and two books, a classic and a modern novel. Charles Dickens, in my view, is the most amazing author of the nineteenth century; his characters (most of them caricatures, but brilliantly drawn) evoke passion, love, hate, inspiration, and longing. His best book, in my opinion, is David Copperfield (although it's hard to judge: I'm right now re-reading Bleak House, which is also amazing; as is Great Expectations; Our Mutual Friend; and... well, and most of them). My second author is a modern writer, John Irving. His book A Prayer for Owen Meany is the most powerful novel of the twentieth century for me, a deeply spiritual and moving book, one that were I still a believer would embody the kind of faith I would seek to emulate.
How do you relax?
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Why do you write?
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
The following are simply the five most important books to my life, books that have changed the way I have looked at the world or understood it and my relationship to it, books that have made me rethink who I am and who I want to be:
1. The Bible. The most important book in the history of our form of civilization, without peer.
2. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. I've read it at least ten times before the movies came out! and have always resonated with its theme of good ultimately triumphing over evil. (And wish/hope that it's right.)
3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. A book that I simply resonate with personally, as in a sense telling my story.
4. Adam Bede by George Eliot. A book that gives characters (especially Adam) that I wish I could emulate in my life.
5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. In my experience, the most powerful, spiritual, and moving book of the twentieth century.
A Bonus: My five all time favorite Jesus movies.
1. Jesus of Montreal. Tops by far. An amazing movie that isn't nearly as well known as it should be.
2. The Last Temptation of Christ. Gets better and more intriguing every time I see it.
3. Jesus Christ Superstar. Best soundtrack by far, and such a terrific period piece.
4. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Directed by Passolini, a Marxist atheist, and dedicated to the Pope anyone who can figure that out has gone a long way to understanding the movie. Brilliantly executed.
5. The Life of Brian. How could I possibly leave it off the list?
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Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times-bestselling Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the early Church and the life of Jesus. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.