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God's Problem [Kindle Edition]

Bart D. Ehrman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (252 customer reviews)

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Book Description

One Bible, Many Answers

In God's Problem, the New York Times bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus challenges the contradictory biblical explanations for why an all-powerful God allows us to suffer.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this sometimes provocative, often pedantic memoir of his own attempts to answer the great theological question about the persistence of evil in the world, Ehrman, a UNC–Chapel Hill religion professor, refuses to accept the standard theological answers. Through close readings of every section of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, he discovers that the Bible offers numerous answers that are often contradictory. The prophets think God sends pain and suffering as a punishment for sin and also that human beings who oppress others create such misery; the writers who tell the Jesus story and the Joseph stories think God works through suffering to achieve redemptive purposes; the writers of Job view pain as God's test; and the writers of Job and Ecclesiastes conclude that we simply cannot know why we suffer. In the end, frustrated that the Bible offers such a range of opposing answers, Ehrman gives up on his Christian faith and fashions a peculiarly utilitarian solution to suffering and evil in the world: first, make this life as pleasing to ourselves as we can and then make it pleasing to others. Although Ehrman's readings of the biblical texts are instructive, he fails to convince readers that these are indeed God's problems, and he fails to advance the conversation any further than it's already come. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The subtitle seems off the mark. Isn’t Why are we here? our most important question? But quibble, quibble. Why is there evil?—a question about the problem of pain so closely related to Why do we suffer? that evangelical Christian–turned agnostic Ehrman operatively seems to prefer it—is indeed one of the Bible’s principal preoccupations. Ehrman rejects three biblical answers to it and approves a fourth before settling on ethical pragmatism (“alleviate suffering wherever possible”), with or without Christianity. The three inadequate answers are that suffering is punishment for sin, that individual suffering is necessary for the greater good, and that suffering presages the imminent triumph of good over evil (as in the perhaps most prevalent understanding of Christ’s Second Coming). Ehrman rejects those positions essentially because they don’t fit the concept of God as loving and omnipotent. He countenances the answer of Ecclesiastes, that suffering is inexplicable, but maintains that it negates God’s omniscience and is perhaps more cogent for nonbelievers. Ehrman’s clarity, simplicity, and congeniality help make this a superb introduction to its subject. --Ray Olson

Product Details

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
353 of 375 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Plug For The Book Of Ecclesiastes March 2, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was subjected (through age 20) to more than my share of fundamentalist preaching, yet inquiry about the world and the value of evidence were stressed in our home. Ehrman's approach to the Bible is more to my liking than reiteration of a dogma I've already heard, documented by passages of scripture preselected to prove that certain view. His forte is presenting the rest of the story. In any Christian book store you will find shelves full of books discussing the problem of suffering, but you will not likely find another one like this one.

In "God's Problem" Ehrman presents the Bible's version (and a few versions from various philosophers and email correspondents) of why God allows - even mandates - suffering. With a God who is all knowing, all powerful, yet completely loving and benevolent to His creation; why are there genocides, natural disasters, wars, epidemics, and such suffering involved in living and dying? Interestingly, believers are statistically no more exempt from disasters than society's many "cheaters." One only needs to look around to find that evil people often thrive and the righteous often suffer. How can this be?

The problem bothered Ehrman continually for decades, as he relates in this very personal book. He had a minor epiphany during his seminary training when an honest analysis of the Bible caused him to stop taking the Bible so literally. But that wasn't the insight that caused him to lose his faith. It was the problem with suffering that did it, although he admits "I went kicking and screaming".

Scattered throughout the Bible are the justifications for suffering. The first (and main) rationale in the Old Testament is that suffering is God's punishment for sin, starting right out with Adam and Eve.
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152 of 169 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good But Incomplete June 2, 2008
First, it must be said that this book is slightly mistitled. The problem is the subtitle, which tells us that this will be a book about "how the Bible fails to answer our most important question." Actually, the entire book is about exploring the various (and multifarious) answers the bible gives in answer to why suffering occurs. Instead, the subtitle should read something more like, "How the bible fails to RESOLVE our most important problem." That would be more accurate.

Ehrman used to be a Christian, he tells us. He used to aspire to be in the ministry. What undid that, he says, is this very question; each time he tried to decipher why an almighty and all powerful god would allow suffering in the world, he came away deeply unsatisfied. It is a question that has been around for ages: from Liebniz to Lewis and Chesterton (or, if you are an atheist like myself, Hume and Flew).

In the end, it is not that Ehrman cannot find answers in the bible to this quesiton. There are many varied answers! Rather, none of them is satisfying to Ehrman. This book goes through all of the bible's (old and new testament) answers to the problem of suffering. Do we suffer as penalty for our sins Do we suffer because all bad things somehow lead to good (ours or others)? Do we suffer simply because God wants to test our faith? Or because God will make things right in the afterlife?

These answers - all of them in various parts of the bible - are explored. All of them, respectfully, are found wanting. Ehrman is not a Christian, but is far from exercising the beligerence and acerbity of Dawkins and Harris. He says in his preface, after noting that his wife is Christian and that the two of them attend church together, that he is not intending to "deconvert" anyone to his own agnosticism.
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316 of 363 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faith vs. Reason February 19, 2008
Bart Ehrman poses many questions all Christians should consider. He never suggests that everyone should follow him in leaving the Christian faith. However, he does discourage blind faith. Ehrman's books are as popular with my Christian colleagues who are secure in their faith as they are with my agnostic and atheist colleagues. It is my experience that his worst critics are individuals who don't wish to have their beliefs put to the test.
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242 of 281 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Checkmate February 19, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I liken Ehrman to an intelligent chess player who puts the squirming reader (who may not, at first, be inclined to agree with him) into methodical and logical checkmate. Ehrman shows why all the traditional moves that people make to explain suffering are, ultimately, inadequate, unsatisfying, or inhumane. He takes the reader on a guided tour of how different biblical authors attempt to explain suffering, beginning with the prophets Amos and Hosea and concluding with Revelation. Naturally, no Biblical author gives an adequate answer to the problem of suffering, and most give a rather reductive or simplistic answer. In many cases the Biblical authors' answers cannot, logically, cohere together. Periodically Ehrman points the reader to literature that dramatizes the problem of suffering (recommending, for example, the poems of Wilfred Owen and a play about Job written by Archibald MacLeish titled "J.B"). In short, Ehrman's book is a well written, honest reflection on the problem of suffering. It makes clear the logical and ethical issues posed when one turns to the Bible for "help" on this issue.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The reason for suffering explained in the Bible
The reason for suffering explained or not explained in the New Testament.
Published 5 days ago by Delbert Jolly
1.0 out of 5 stars God's Problem: Why is he so merciful that he does not make everyone...
Ehrman presumes that suffering is God's problem, as if people do not deserve to suffer. Perhaps the title should be, God's Problem: Why is he so merciful that he does not make... Read more
Published 22 days ago by The Grey Burro
3.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite authors; not one of my favorite books.
I have long been a fan of Bart Ehrman and have read (and for the most part greatly enjoyed) almost every book he has published, so along with this brief review I offer a sincere... Read more
Published 25 days ago by Denny McBride (The Ceaseless Reader)
5.0 out of 5 stars I love Ehrman's thoughts and writings
Very informative and thought provoking! I love Ehrman's thoughts and writings!
Published 1 month ago by Dick Beery
2.0 out of 5 stars There is an Alternative View
I like the review by Kevin Currie-Knight, who said: "In the end, it is not that Ehrman cannot find answers in the bible to this quesiton. There are many varied answers! Read more
Published 1 month ago by William M. Lolli
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
Ehrman writes interesting books about the historical context of the bible and I consider the historical interpretation the only accurate way to interpret the bible. Read more
Published 1 month ago by southpaw68
3.0 out of 5 stars Not His Best Effort
I have read several of Ehrman's books and admire his scholarship. Of the professor's books I have read, this is the weakest. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Fredric D. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting and thought provoking.
Published 1 month ago by Frank A.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book. Those who are open to understanding the ...
Excellent book. Those who are open to understanding the truth of the "construction" of the bible and the formation of the Christian religion (or is it the Paulian... Read more
Published 2 months ago by marcus c bock
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Incredible. Really explored a lot of idea besides just presenting what the texts revealed.
Published 3 months ago by Steve Schlairet
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More About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. 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 Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured in Time and has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, the History Channel, major NPR shows, and other top media outlets. He lives in Durham, N.C.


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Things do NOT happen for a reason
It's been awhile since you posted this, so if you're still! You raise a ton of valid questions. If I'm convinced of anything (and I am Christian, an ordained minister) it's that everything does NOT happen for a reason...I think that kind of thinking is very dangerous. It causes us... Read More
Aug 30, 2012 by Mark Jones |  See all 3 posts
To answer the Books title question
To find out why God allows suffering, we need to think back to the time when suffering began. When Satan led Adam and Eve into disobeying God, an important question was raised. Satan did not call into question God's power. Even Satan knows that there is no limit to God's power. Rather, Satan... Read More
Aug 3, 2008 by John L. Herd |  See all 17 posts
Did these reviewers actually read the book?
Yeah I dont get how people can feel that its ok to review a book (positively or negatively) without having read the book.

I just got the book today and read the first chapter. Pretty good so far... but I will wait until I read the whole book before I posted a review.

People, c'mon!
Feb 20, 2008 by Zachary Kroger |  See all 5 posts
The Sadness of Being Blinded
Of course, others might argue it is you who are blind. You recite your theological ideology as if you and you alone are possessed of the truth, ignoring the history of sin and crime committed by some Christians in the name of their deity. A history which demonstrates that this ideology is not... Read More
Feb 17, 2008 by Etaoin Shrdlu |  See all 7 posts
Understanding free will
If humans choose to do wrong it was God who gave them that ability...ergo Theofatalism...
Jun 26, 2013 by Lewis Tagliaferre |  See all 2 posts
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