Ehrman’s Problem 7: The “Classical View” & the Holocaust

In my first series on Ehrman’s book God’s Problem, I reviewed some of his random ramble through the free will defense (there’s more to come). Now in his chapters two and three we turn to an even longer ramble spanning 69 pages!—of what he calls “the classical view of suffering”: that sometimes people suffer because God is punishing them for their sin.

Ehrman is right that the Bible tells us that God does punish people for their sins; that Jesus suffered to pay the penalty for human sin (84); and that the Bible does not teach that all suffering is because God is punishing people for their sins: “The prophets and other biblical writers, of course, were not stating a general religious principle that was to be accepted as true for all times and places” (90).

But from there things get tangled.

Ehrman begins his discussion of the “classical view”—God is punishing people—by five pages of relating holocaust horrors. Then he asks: “Were the Jews chosen for this?” He continues, “As hard as it is to believe, there are Christians in the world who have argued that they were” (25). Ehrman points to German Evangelicals who endorsed Hitler (26).

But, so what? After all, the Bible does not teach that God brought the Holocaust on the Jews (Ehrman certainly never quotes a verse to support this notion). You can find people who call themselves Christians endorsing almost anything Scripture doesn’t teach. That some cracked-pot-Christians supported Hitler doesn’t mean the Bible taught that and to hold other Christians or the Bible responsible for their beliefs is no more than guilt by association.

Then Ehrman launches into his full-throated discussion of the Classical View:

When these things happened, how did the ancient authors explain them? One of their most common explanations—it fills many pages of the Hebrew Bible—may seem simplistic, repugnant, backward, or just dead wrong to many people. It is that people suffer because God wants them to suffer. And why does God want them to suffer? Because they have disobeyed him and he is punishing them (27, emphasis mine).

Pay close attention to: “When these things happened, how did the ancient authors explain them?” (emphasis mine). Although this sentence follows Ehrman’s Holocaust description, what does “these” refer to? Obviously “these” can’t refer to the Holocaust which Ehrman just spent five pages detailing (although many casual readers will come to that conclusion), because the Holocaust wouldn’t occur for about 2,000 years after the Bible was penned and the Bible doesn’t mention it. What “these” must refer to is that when terrible things happened to ancient Israel, the prophets attributed them to God punishing Israel.

Thus Ehrman suggests that since prophets in ancient Israel claimed the bad things that happened to Israel were due to God punishing Israel, then, by this viewpoint, the Holocaust could be due to God punishing Israel.

Now it is true that when Israel was a theocracy, its covenant agreement included protection and blessings in return for obedience, but removal of protection and curses for rebellion. But neither Christians nor Jews consider Israel to have been a theocracy since ancient days. In fact, Israel wasn’t even a sovereign nation for more than 2,000 years! Again, Scripture says nothing about the Holocaust.

Ehrman’s suggestion is no more than a suggestion. It isn’t an argument.

Now, who was actually responsible for committing the Holocaust? Humans were! Even the atheists agree with that because if there is no God then who is there left to blame? Humans, right? Humans used their free will to force Jews to strip naked and to then shoot them; humans used their free will to drop Zyklon B into gas chambers.

If you want to blame someone for the Holocaust, blame humans.

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One Response to Ehrman’s Problem 7: The “Classical View” & the Holocaust

  1. Lucy says:

    I think a very large portion of suffering could be blamed on humans. Tsunamis, for example, the suffering is most terrible and devastating when there is a city built behind a seawall in the path of the wave. And when there is also a nuclear plant in the wave’s path, well, God didn’t put it there. In fact, the reason those nuclear plants are as deadly as they are is because humans chose to follow the technological path that melded with their desire to make weapons to kill other humans.

    In a way I see it all as tying back to the Garden, the more we humans think we know, the more we think we are like God, the worse we bring out the bad side of the nature that God created, and cursed for that very sin.

    Take something more basic, like childbirth for instance. It is not uncommon to read about indigenous peoples eating their ancient diets and practicing their ancient lifestyles, experiencing much less pain or trouble in childbirth than what we (women of course) with our “advanced knowledge” of health and living experience. Now I would not suggest we all be Luddites or live in grass huts and do nothing unless God talks to us from the burning bushes, but we must realize when we get burned God did not make us step in the fire, he merely uses it to confirm our own weakness.

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