question and response

Holiday in Hellmouth: God and Suffering

My first experience of reading from The New Yorker was James Wood article, Holiday in Hellmouth:God may be dead, but the question of why he permits suffering lives on. Although this article was a review of the book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer by Bart Ehrman, Wood addresses God and suffering in a well thought out article that seems to move beyond the scope of the book being reviewed.

I enjoyed reading the article and found it to be well written and articulate. Wood outlines many of the common responses to the question of the reality of both evil and a good and loving God. I am comfortable with two of the responses that Wood gives – God suffers with us and that the reality of free will allows evil to happen. In contrast to Wood, I believe that suffering does not limit God’s power. Also, I would make a distinction between the free will given to humanity and the regular workings of the natural world.

In Woods’ final paragraphs, he concludes that the hope for a second coming puts off and does not adequately address the question of suffering. Woods asserts that the hope for a new heaven and earth leaves the question – Why not now, God? What is the point of this life when a new one is coming? Here I see Woods response as deficient. Woods addresses free will in relationship to suffering, but does not address free will in relationship to the possible good that comes of the ability for us to accept God’s grace and live as a part of God’s kingdom today. I believe that we have the opportunity to live by the customs and norms of God’s coming kingdom and be a part of God’s kingdom here on earth. Is there the possibility to suffering as a result of free will? Yes. Is there the possibility for good as a result of free will. Also, yes.

I recommend the article and welcome your comments both on it and my response.

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

3 replies on “Holiday in Hellmouth: God and Suffering”

Thanks for the link to the article–It has been a while since I’ve read anything from The New Yorker, but they do tend to have pretty good articles, albeit rather lengthy ones. 🙂

I appreciate your responses to what he wrote, and that’s an excellent point about not limiting free will as just being used to explain suffering. This reminds me of a quote by Kallistos Ware, which is fresh on my mind because I read it this past weekend:

“In man’s possession and exercise of free will we find, by no means a complete explanation, but at least the beginnings of an answer to our problem. Why has God allowed the angels and man to sin? Why does God permit evil and suffering? We answer: Because he is a God of love. Love implies sharing, and love also implies freedom. As a Trinity of love, God desired to share his life with created persons made in his image, who would be capable of responding to him freely and willingly in a relationship of love. Where there is no freedom, there can be no love… And thereby, to put the matter in an anthropomorphic way, God took a risk: for with this gift of freedom there was given also the possibility of sin. But he who takes no risks does not love…without freedom man would not be in God’s image; without freedom man would not be capable of entering into communion with God in a relationship of love.”

I heard N.T. Wright Debate the God’s Problem author on the Laura Ingram radio show of all things – Needless to say the Good bishop intellectually dismantled Ehrman’s premise – as usually by elevating the level of discourse to a point that Ehrman just couldnt compete. Arguing with N.T. Wright is like trying to dunk on Kobe, Ehrman might be on the level of a good European Basketball star – but up against the best he was dreadful.


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