- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne (February 19, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061173975
- ISBN-13: 978-0061173974
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #832,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer Hardcover – Large Print, February 19, 2008
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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.)
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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
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Top customer reviews
Taking this narrow slice -- the problem of suffering -- through the huge, sprawling, and disparate set of books collected in the Christian Bible is a useful and manageable way for Ehrman to traverse that whole collection in a short book. And Ehrman presents a number of valuable insights. But philosophers and theologians have had much to say about the issue that Ehrman ignores (not that there is any universally acceptable solution to the problem). And as Ehrman pretty much acknowledges, he can be deaf to nuance. His usual approach to the texts is historical and literal. There is a great deal of poetry in the bible, but Ehrman does not approach it as poetry.
The limits to his approach seemed clearest to me in his discussion of the Book of Job. Now, Job is a notoriously difficult book, and anyone looking at the problem of suffering in the Christian or Jewish tradition needs to take full account of it. Ehrman's approach is reductive. He reduces all of it to a simple idea or two. There is value in Ehrman's insights, I think, but he misses the deep richness of the text. For thousands of years, Job has inspired a wealth of commentary and literature. I think that reading the Book of Job as drama and as poetry can yield insights -- or at least provoke questions -- that Ehrman's reductive approach misses.
I also found myself noting, throughout the book, instances where the author makes some blanket statements of the type that he disdains in other authors and writers, without any further breakdown, scholarship, or even justification for the remarks. In addition, after discussing several Biblical "answers" for the problem of suffering - and skewering them all with detailed analysis which included when the individual books involved were written, in what context, why biblical scholarship finds their roots problematic, etc, etc - he then presents Ecclesiastes as the only acceptable answer to the problem of suffering...and gives that book a virtual free ride - no textual criticism, nothing about the history of the book, the presumed authors, any problems with the viewpoint - it's like Ehrman agrees with this viewpoint so he feels no need to apply any real scholarship to it?
I actually enjoy reading books by individuals who have landed on one extreme end or the other of the religious continuum, and I don't have a real issue with either end. But if you exist on one end quit claiming you live in the middle. I've read other items by Ehrman and seen several of his video lectures, and he claims to be agnostic but his teaching, thoughts, lectures make it very clear he is actually atheist. Which, again, is fine if that's where he is - I just don't get the hair splitting of claiming otherwise. Maybe because it would too deeply offend his readers? I don't know.
Overall, though, this is a very readable book - if you've never really had a basic introduction to Theodicy this is a fantastic first read. He presents all of the major "answers" on the topic that have been offered across time, does a good job tracing them historically and putting them into context. Just don't make this the ONLY book you read on the topic, there is much scholarly work on the issue out there and while this is a good foundation/intro text it is not the definitive text.
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