Bart D. Ehrman is a prolific professor and author, who, although he began as a conservative Christian, lost his faith altogether and has written of that devolution in his book, GOD’S PROBLEM: How The Bible Fails
To Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We
It was this unanswered problem, he says, that destroyed his faith.
Having read his book, I can sympathize with his struggle, but not with his conclusion based upon questions with which people have struggled, but not necessarily answered, since ancient times. I also have confronted some of these same questions, eventually finding answers that enabled my faith to continue. Although he calls this “God’s problem,” I believe it is Ehrman’s problem, one he’s really not solved.
If we cannot justify the problem of suffering in a world created and sustained by a righteous and loving God, neither can anyone explain the presence in it of moral failure, inhumanity, cruelty, greed, or, for that matter, love, redemption, and hope. Taking God out of the equation does not solve the problem of suffering; neither does it explain the existence of love. Faith does not reject reason, but goes on beyond where reason cannot go. Our faith must also be based upon our encounter with the living God, an experience which we only attempt to understand and communicate with reason. A MIGHTY FORTRESS
So why begin our study of Psalm 46 with the comments above? Because this psalm deals with Ehrman’s obstacle, but from a different perspective. Both the Psalmist and Israel were convinced that “God is our
refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear…”
(46: 1,2). How did they come to that conclusion? They began, not with pure reason, but with their individual and collective experience that God was and is a refuge and present help in trouble.
It was this psalm that 481 years ago inspired Martin Luther to write his great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our
This expression of his hope was based upon his own experience of God. In his life he encountered rejection, treachery, and suffering. Yet, although he did not escape most of his obstacles, he found God present to give him the strength to endure and prevail – “Our
helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
When we pray for God’s help in meeting our trials, is must be a two-fold prayer: (1) if it is your will, Lord, let me escape this snare (Lk. 22:42), but, if not then: (2) be with me and bring me through. Ehrman could remain a Christian if, somewhere on the certificate of membership, there was a guarantee: “No more trials and tribulations. No more crosses!” I do not know why some escape and others do not, even though the latter may be pillars of faith. The gospel does not guarantee escapes, but it does guarantee crosses – and resurrections! “Let goods and kindred go, this mortals life also…”
In his Journal, Andre Gide wrote: “I knew someone who was plunged into black melancholy at the mere thought of having to replace, soon and from time to time, the pair of shoes he was wearing; and likewise his clothing, his hat, his linen, his necktie. This was not an evidence of avarice, but a sort of anguish at not being able to rely on anything durable, definitive, anything absolute.”
Of course, the anxieties and concerns we face may not reach the epic level of cataclysmic upheavals. No less in daily experience do we face the need to be able to affirm: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present
help in trouble…”
Sometimes it is that “durable, definitive absolute” that enables us to get out of bed in the morning and face the tensions and wounds of daily life, or grants us at night the peace to fall asleep.
It’s a matter of perspective. We, like Ehrman, are free to make our own choice. Suffering, even death, is not ultimate, but God – “a bulwark never failing” – is!