Burlington Times-News

By Sarah Beth Costello
Oct. 9, 2009

This article was featured as a guest column in the Burlington Times-News

Every five seconds, a child dies from lack of nourishment. More than one billion of the world’s population are starving, according to Bread for the World. The World Bank estimates 500 million of the world’s population live in “absolute poverty.” Human brutality has ended millions of lives from the Rwandan and Sudanese genocides to Hitler’s mass extermination of Jews prior to and during World War II.

Human suffering has prompted scholars, educators and philosophers to explore the age-old question “where is God?” When chaos and calamity occur, the natural inclination is to demand answers for the unprecedented events. For some, suffering is the dominant roadblock preventing them from accepting God.

Bart D. Ehrman is such a man. The professor and department chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina is a self-proclaimed

Dr. Bart Ehrman

Dr. Bart Ehrman

agnostic who vacated his Christian principles after arriving at the conclusion that the existence of suffering discredits the existence of God.

On Oct. 7, Ehrman and Christian apologist and renowned author Dinesh D’Souza engaged in a debate at UNC to address “God and the problem of suffering.” Erhman used emotionally based arguments, such as his background and personal experiences, while D’Souza took a more logic-based approach.

Ehrman and D’Souza agreed that there are two types of suffering: moral evil and natural suffering. Moral evil relates to human inflicted suffering and natural suffering includes uncontrollable catastrophes. Ehrman’s study of the Bible led to his agnosticism because he said while God continually intervened in scriptures, his hand is not evident today.

“I became increasingly disturbed about why God doesn’t do anything [today],” said Ehrman. “If God answers prayer, why doesn’t he?”

Ehrman argued that global suffering –mass genocides, war, disease and poverty– are indicators of a God-free world.

“I gave up my faith,” said Ehrman “Why would God create a world like this? Couldn’t he have created a world that didn’t require [suffering] and the shifting of tectonic plates?”

Yes, God could have created a perfect world, but he chose to create beings with an ability to make their own decisions and follow his commandments voluntarily. C.S. Lewis explained in “Mere Christianity” that God did not create evil, rather evil is a perversion of what is good. Evil and suffering is the result of man’s disobedience.

“Suffering,” said D’Souza, “does not call into question the existence of God, but the nature of God.”

Dinesh D'Souza

If a father disappoints his child, said D’Souza, the child will not say, “I refuse to believe in you.” Instead, the child may question his father’s character, but to immediately discredit his existence would be idiotic and illogical.

“God’s design was not that He would be a cosmic bell-hop, but to create autonomous beings to deal with situations as we should,” said D’Souza.

According to Ehrman’s argument, God can’t exist because suffering is prevalent. So how can we account for the good: a newborn baby, a sunrise, the unexplained healing of a cancer patient? Is it just chance, or is the good that people do just second nature? If God must be good to exist, how can there be any good without him? If our nature is to commit moral evil, our nature cannot be good.

It may seem easier to live life without surrendering to a God who requires sacrifice. Somewhere along the way Ehrman decided life is too hard to commit to an unseen God. But his alternative is a depressing one. Ehrman believes all we have is now. His philosophy is “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” and by the way, try and stop world poverty while indulging yourself in lovemaking and beer.

D’Souza said humans are like ants on a construction site with a tiny window into reality. What kind of ant questions the actions of a builder who can see the whole picture? We may never understand suffering in its full context. But I’d rather follow a God of mystery than live an empty and hopeless life without Him.


By Sarah Beth Costello
May 23, 2009

In 1940, German troops invaded the Netherlands and secured bans and new laws that placed Jews and other individuals in danger. Millions of Jews were brutally murdered during Adolf Hitler’s reign, a time in history many wish could be forgotten.

Despite the fact this time was dark and tragic, many stories emerged of hope and forgiveness. One such story involved the ten Booms, a family who risked their own safety, security and lives to hide Dutch Jews in their watch shop in Amsterdam, Holland.

Corrie ten Boom later wrote the book, “The Hiding Place” describing the secret room built to hide their Jewish guests and the many events, including the arrests of the ten Boom family, the death of their father, Casper, and the tragedies and miracles that followed.

Image courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:

This book has been written as a script and will be performed by the Arts Alive senior acting class at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Paramount Theater, 128 E. Front St., Burlington. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under.

“I’ve always loved ‘The Hiding Place,’ ” said Erin Tate, who is playing the part of Corrie. “I’d read the book several times and have always admired (Corrie) and I was really happy for the opportunity to portray her on stage.”

Although the play is serious and sad at times, the message is powerful.

Corrie and her sister Betsie were eventually sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp in northern Germany. But despite the filth, lice and utter discouragement of the camp, the ten Boom sisters continued to cling to God.

“There is no pit is so deep that He is not deeper still,” said Betsie during a time when Corrie was struggling with hate and anger.

“Corrie begins and ends the play with the line ‘love is greater,’ ” Tate said. “I think that’s really important no matter what time period you’re in if you have the love of Christ. God’s love is universal and it’s needed just as much in today’s culture as it was in Nazi Germany.”

Arts Alive is down to the final weeks before opening night and the students and staff are busy with last-minute preparations

“This is the first production that I’ve helped direct,” said executive manager Jordan Cubino who is a former Arts Alive acting student. “(Productions are) always a learning experience. It’s interesting seeing the ‘Hiding Place’ from an actor’s perspective and returning to see it from a director’s perspective.”

The performances at Arts Alive are more than entertainment venues. The students, directors and staff hope to encourage and challenge theatergoers while presenting a clear gospel message through the arts.

Sarah Costello is a junior at Elon University and a Teens & 20s writer.