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God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer Hardcover – 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.
God's Problem is a fantastic book of how the Bible fails to answer the question of why we suffer. Accomplished author and biblical critic, Bart D. Erhman takes us through a realistic biblical ride on the four main justifications of suffering: suffering caused by sin, suffering caused by sins committed by others, redemptive suffering, and finally suffering as a test of faith. This excellent 304 page-book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. Suffering and a Crisis of Faith, 2. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: The Classical View of Suffering, 3. More Sin and More Wrath: The Dominance of the Classical View of Suffering, 4. The Consequences of Sin, 5. The Mystery of the Greater Good: Redemptive Suffering, 6. Does Suffering Make Sense? The Book of Job and Ecclesiastes, 7. God Has the Last Word: Jewish-Christian Apocalypticism, 8. More Apocalytpic Views: God's Ultimate Triumph over Evil and 9. Suffering: The Conclusion.
1. Well written, thought-provoking book by one of the best authors of this genre.
2. Very few authors know the Bible as well as Mr. Ehrman and even fewer are able to convey the meaning of it as well and as clear as he does.
3. Even-handed, respectful tone throughout.
4. Mr. Ehrman's track record is sound, you can trust him.
5. Theodicy explained.
6. The immoralities and mixed messages of the Bible.
7. Great sound historical references throughout this book.
8. The aforementioned four types of suffering illustrated in the Bible with a luxury of details.
9. So many great, practical examples from the Bible. Mr. Ehrman masters his craft.
10. The evolution of the Bible. Fascinating...
11. The central messages of the Old and New Testaments.
12. The impact of Paul on Christianity. Great insight.
13. Jesus as a first-century apocalyptic Jew.
14. The problem of evil.
15. Great thought-provoking thoughts abound.
16. I always learn something new from Mr. Ehrman.
17. I will never see the book of Job the same way ever again.
18. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes.
19. The current suffering of humanity.
20. Why does Paul call Jesus the "first fruits" of the resurrection? This explanation alone is with the price of the book.
21. Was the book of "Revelation "written with us in mind?? Find out.
22. So what happens to apocalyptic worldview when the expected apocalypse never comes?
23. The doctrine of heaven and hell.
24. Ends this book with an uplifting bang! Excellent.
25. Enlightening book from beginning to end.
26. Great notes.
1. Links did not work.
2. A little repetitive.
3. Illustrations never hurt.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's one of the main reasons I enjoy reading so much. I read, I learn and I live. Kudos Mr. Ehrman for a wonderful book on such an important and thought-provoking topic. Highly recommended for all.
Further suggestions: "Misquoting Jesus" by the same author, "Man Made God" by Barbara G. Walker, "Sense and Goodness without God" by Richard Carrier, "God and His Demons" by Michael Parenti, "Christian No More..." by Jeffrey Mark, and "Why I Became an Atheist..." by John Loftus.
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