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God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

A worthy contribution to an old debate

Today in the developing world 26,000 children under the age of five died from malnutrition and diseases that are easily prevented or treated in wealthy societies. Tomorrow, another 26,000 will die painfully as their mothers cry and pray over them. It adds up to more...
Today in the developing world 26,000 children under the age of five died from malnutrition and diseases that are easily prevented or treated in wealthy societies. Tomorrow, another 26,000 will die painfully as their mothers cry and pray over them. It adds up to more than 9 million individual tragedies per year. Somehow, claims of free will and a prehistoric crime committed in the Garden of Eden don't quite make it acceptable, at least not in my mind. Those 9 million dead babies per year and many other horrors must trouble thoughtful and decent Christians who believe their god is both real and a force for good. Ehrman's book is good reading for anyone who is in interested in this very old problem of a good and just god controlling a world that is filled with constant horror and injustice. I highly recommend it for both nonbelievers and believers. --Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God

posted by Anonymous on June 14, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

Blind writhing in the intellectual and theological shallows

As one who has put years of thought to Christianity and the nature of the universe, I simply cannot understand books like this. Ehrman not only claims that the Bible fails to answer the question of why humans suffer, but also that this is the most important question. ...
As one who has put years of thought to Christianity and the nature of the universe, I simply cannot understand books like this. Ehrman not only claims that the Bible fails to answer the question of why humans suffer, but also that this is the most important question. Only a cursory amount of thought is needed to realize that neither of these claims are true. As the author himself points out, several answers to these questions are put forth within the Bible, and to my mind, while each of them is different and comes from a different standpoint, none of them contradict the others in any way; rather it is like looking at the different facets of the same gem. If Ehrman wants a simple answer to this question, he will not get one. Real answers to questions are seldom ever simple. Furthermore, independent treatments of this question have been successfully and intelligently undertaken in the writings of others such as C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, to name only a couple. Finally, it is quite ridiculous to state that this question is the most important question we can ask about God or the Bible. There are many much more important questions. To lose faith over such a shallow and elementary matter as this, as well as being sad and worthy of pity, is also quite thoughtless and foolish. Whether you're a believer or an atheist, you would do well to go to other sources than this for intelligent thought.

posted by MLucero on March 11, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2008

    A worthy contribution to an old debate

    Today in the developing world 26,000 children under the age of five died from malnutrition and diseases that are easily prevented or treated in wealthy societies. Tomorrow, another 26,000 will die painfully as their mothers cry and pray over them. It adds up to more than 9 million individual tragedies per year. Somehow, claims of free will and a prehistoric crime committed in the Garden of Eden don't quite make it acceptable, at least not in my mind. Those 9 million dead babies per year and many other horrors must trouble thoughtful and decent Christians who believe their god is both real and a force for good. Ehrman's book is good reading for anyone who is in interested in this very old problem of a good and just god controlling a world that is filled with constant horror and injustice. I highly recommend it for both nonbelievers and believers. --Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    From A Believer and Ehrman Fan

    As a rock solid believer and huge fan of Ehrman I find myself caught between opposing forces. Nevertheless, I continue to believe and continue to read Ehrman. In God's Problem, Ehrman again uses stunning logic and reasoning in his autopsy of suffering. The writing and research is first-rate. Due to this, it drives the mind to ponder all of the different angles the author throws at us.

    In addition, I really appreciated this book in that Ehrman did not stray from the subject matter. This is all suffering all the time. In many of his books he goes off on a tangent so, I have to wade through several pages to return to the main subject of the book. If I pay $24.95 + shipping for a book about birds, it had better not have a chapter about bees.

    Suffering is not just a human problem to be solved but rather a divine mystery that should be dissected and discussed. We will probably never find the root cause but an open mind and open dialogue makes us a better people in the end.

    I hope you find this review helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch, Author of Wingtips Cowboy Wisdom for Today's Business Leaders

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    God's Problem is Our Problem

    Bart Ehrman provides readers with much needed background information about the bibles authors and perspectives at the time it was written. He addresses his own problem of making sense of a God who seems either unable or unwilling to ease the pain and suffering in the world. He accurately and intelligently addresses the idea of free will so often used by religious followers to explain the suffering dilemma. He lays out the arguements and then explains why they don't hold water. He also tells us that this is the crux of his personal delivery into agnosticism. He doesn't try, or even intend to change the reader's belief in God but mearly to explain his own change of heart and belief.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2008

    Ehrman deals with natural evil

    I think that Ehrman did an excellent job confronting the problem of God. How do you reconcile the traditional beliefs in God's omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence with the existence of natural evil and tragedy in life.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    This is a review of a book I just finished reading today, &ldquo

    This is a review of a book I just finished reading today, “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer”. Bart Ehrman, who turned from fairly devout Christian faith to atheism (or agnosticism?), makes some very important points throughout his engagingly written book. I believe that Ehrman does a fair and rational critique of the biblical “explanations” for human suffering – varied (and sometimes seemingly contradictory) though those “explanations” might be.

    Is Ehrman’s critique of biblical failures to consistently account for human suffering a successful repudiation of the Bible’s doctrines and teachings? One’s answer would surely have to depend, in part, on how one is to understand the Bible. If one understands the Bible as infallible in every detail and in it’s every statement, then the rational defense of aspects of its teachings becomes problematic to a pronounced degree. However, if one regards the Bible as a book comprised of numerous different authors’ compositions from different eras and different cultures, such that the writings, though greatly inspired by God, are nevertheless humanly composed (and very limited) insights into the infinite mysteries inhering in God, then it should be expected that different people in different times might have very diverse understandings of just what God is working out with humanity. This should not be too disturbing, if one understands that humanity can have, at best, a very minuscule comprehension of God and His infinitely wise workings. But maybe Ehrman sees the Bible as either infallible in its entirety, or merely the ramblings of men who were seeking to grapple with the mysteries of life through superstitious explanations of the realities they encountered. One does not need to go to either extreme. An understanding that the Bible IS inspired by God, but that it consists of human efforts to encapsulate in language the infinite mysteries of God’s infinite realms, might then mean that the incongruities and inconsistencies of the Bible do not become justification for jettisoning it from one’s library of most vital and precious writings.

    Of course, such a move would not explain, nor justify, human suffering. As for myself, I do have explanations that are fully consistent with logical and rational analysis, and they do serve as a perfect defense of God’s goodness and justice, along with the undeniable and horrific sufferings of much of humanity. But such a defense would require, for full justice, a book-length work, which must wait until some future time – in the event that such an endeavor becomes an aspect of life’s “calling”.

    Even though I cannot accept Ehrman’s final conclusion, nor the strictly secular-atheistic thesis of his book, I will grant the book a 5-star rating, because it deals with a critically vital issue for humanity – whether religious or irreligious – and the book is well-written, is engagingly composed, and offers a serious, in-depth critique of much of what the Bible has to say about the human dilemmas, including our inevitable encounters with suffering, to some degree or other.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    There Are No Good Theological Answers

    A person must either take these problems on faith, or not. I have never seen happiness at a funeral or some other disaster, which indicates to me that such faith does not exist.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Blind writhing in the intellectual and theological shallows

    As one who has put years of thought to Christianity and the nature of the universe, I simply cannot understand books like this. Ehrman not only claims that the Bible fails to answer the question of why humans suffer, but also that this is the most important question. Only a cursory amount of thought is needed to realize that neither of these claims are true. As the author himself points out, several answers to these questions are put forth within the Bible, and to my mind, while each of them is different and comes from a different standpoint, none of them contradict the others in any way; rather it is like looking at the different facets of the same gem. If Ehrman wants a simple answer to this question, he will not get one. Real answers to questions are seldom ever simple. Furthermore, independent treatments of this question have been successfully and intelligently undertaken in the writings of others such as C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, to name only a couple. Finally, it is quite ridiculous to state that this question is the most important question we can ask about God or the Bible. There are many much more important questions. To lose faith over such a shallow and elementary matter as this, as well as being sad and worthy of pity, is also quite thoughtless and foolish. Whether you're a believer or an atheist, you would do well to go to other sources than this for intelligent thought.

    4 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2013

    Interesting discussion of why we suffer.

    I enjoy professor Ehrman's books because he has such a thorough understanding of the Bible--both old and new testaments. He admits that he no longer is a Christian but that actually provides wider appeal of the book in my opinion. He asks why we suffer if there is a loving God. He makes some very enlightening points about passages of the Bible that I have never heard before. He forced me to spend almost as much time double-checking his Bible references as I spent reading his book. Unfortunately, his conclusion was a bit less than satisfactory. I was hoping he would provide an answer to a question that has plagued mankind for over 2000 years. Oh well, I guess if he had all the answers he would be ruling the world, right? I found this a good read. Professor Ehrman didn't shake my faith or cause me to become an atheist. He made me think...and that's the whole point.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Bart Ehrman, God's Problem

    Discussion of Bart Ehrman's God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question. (HarperCollins Publishers, 2008); paperback edition just published in 2009.

    Bart Ehrman, a leading New Testament and early Christianity scholar, takes a close look at the Bible's attempts to deal with what he calls "God's problem," the fact that there is so much apparently pointless suffering in the universe, especially for humans, while the Bible insists that God is both very powerful and a loving parent, concerned for the well-being humanity.

    The Bible generally assumes a three-level universe-heaven, the surface of the earth where we dwell, and Sheol (or, later, Hell). This is a smallish universe such that it is possible to imagine God as a creator of it and intimately concerned with us.

    Ehrman assumes a semi-hedonistic position throughout his discussion; he does not deny the value of justice and benevolence but assumes that suffering is a bad thing that should be minimized. He devotes many pages to recent and historical cases of suffering--on the personal scale and massive social scale, like the Holocaust and the AIDS epidemic, that make the case for most people capable of compassion that this problem is an acute one. He does not hurry to sweep the facts under the rug or to explain them away.

    Biblical solutions discussed by Ehrman (Space prevents from listing more than a few).

    1. Humans (or the Children of Israel) have sinned and God is punishing them. One of the ways He does this is simply "turning away" from them and letting their enemies attack them.

    2. Suffering is caused not always by God but by other human beings using their own free will. (The Pharaoh hardened his [own] heart and would not let the Israelites go.)

    3. Suffering comes from Satan and his allies. (Hebrew Scriptures close to Christian era and New Testament authors.) But they will ultimately be defeated. In one variant, it is not turning away from God that brings suffering down upon people but their comparative loyalty to God that provokes harm to them at the hands of God's enemies. But the enemies will not always have the upper hand.

    4. Suffering is for the greater human good, i.e., in the long run.

    a. Humans will learn their lesson, repeat, return to God's commandments-especially those concerned with justice and love of neighbor.

    b. Suffering that is a sacrifice for sins will produce atonement-reconciliation with God.
    Note: this suffering can be vicarious, that is, one person's suffering can atone for others' sins. (Already in the Hebrew scriptures, it becomes central in Pauline Christianity.)

    c. It will somehow pave the way for the Messiah or the Second Coming of Christ, and the salvation of the believers. (Book of Daniel, Book of Revelation.)

    d. Suffering as imitation: it enables the believer to participate in Christ by undergoing treatment similar to what he received at his persecutors' hands. This permits him to hope that he will receive an elevation similar to Christ's resurrection. (Paul in his Letters)

    e. Suffering via rejection.

    [Space does not permit discussing what E. says about Job and Ecclesiastes.]

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    The Answer

    This book is in error due to the fact that the Bible specifically answers the question as to why many people suffer. The answer is found in Hosea 4:6 'my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge' People suffer because they are not being taught what the Bible teaches about what Jesus provided for us at the cross. The sin problem between God and man was rectified through the payment Jesus gave for us with His life. Now, Gal 3:13 tells us that Christ has redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us. Which means that we are no longer under law, but under grace if you receive it by faith in Jesus as your redeemer and belief in His resurrection from the dead (which was only possible since he paid for all sin past, present, and future tense for the wages of sin is death). Once you receive Him, then you are no longer under the law. You are then under grace and therefore according to Rom 8:1 There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Condemnation is the deepest root that causes suffering. It is deeper than fear and stress. Once you understand what Jesus did for you at the cross, you can be free at last. No more suffering. It gets ever better when you begin to walk in this truth. You live a blessed life.

    3 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2008

    Never Give Up Research!

    First off I've read all of Mr. Ehrman's books including the textbooks he's written or co-authored. He has studied the Bible, mainly the New Testament his entire life, and he is only writing from the earliest documents that have survived these thousands of years. If you do your homework there are hundreds, if not thousands of more historical documents that were not lucky enough to be included in the Bible. Mere humans like you and me ordered by the king to put together a Bible some 400 years after Christ death chose the ones that made it. Yes I didn¿t make a typo the Bible was compiled some 400 years after Christ death. How reliable could those documents be after being translated into at least 26 versions of the Bible that I¿ve read myself? Not to mention the early copies were copied by hand but by scribes since there were no printing presses back then. Each time they were copied or translated there were errors made constantly, some I suppose by accident, and some on purpose to advance the scribes own agenda. I feel certain there is an Absolute Supreme Being, but the God of the Old Testament does not sound like the one and only Absolute Loving God for all eternity to me. I give his book *****, and say, 'Mr. Ehrman, keep investigating and writing your findings.¿ I praise not just the Christian religion, but every religion there is. If you study each religion around the world I assure you you¿ll bring good out of all of them.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2013

    I enjoyed this book.  Part of that came from the view that I agr

    I enjoyed this book.  Part of that came from the view that I agreed with most of the ideas and thoughts in the book.
    If God is all powerful, why is there suffering?  If he is not all powerful and can't stop the evil in the world - then is he GOD?  
    The arguments that try to explain some "rational" reason for suffering seem to change with the time - to fit to the best argument that can be made
    at the time.  Like Ehrman, I find those arguments aren't good enough.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2013

    Highly recommended for those who are Seekers....

    Professor Ehrman challenges the reader to seriously consider ALL the tradidtional explanations of the eternal question "Why suffering?". This book tackles the problem head-on and does not try to whitewash this eternal dilemma. There are no pat answers given but this reader came away with a better understanding of how others have addressed the problem of suffering. In the end, Professor Ehrman states his case and allows his readers to come to their own conclusions. For this reader, it was truly a refreshing book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    Lack of understanding

    We suffer because we live in a fallen world. That is why Christ came to take on our sin and nail it to the cross forever. Christ has already done the work of redemption, but we are still living in a dying world. We must suffer through life because the world is cursed. However The Bible is clear that Christ will come again and he will create a new heaven and a new earth. Now is the time to repent and trust in Christ. He rose from the dead to give us life! Either you will die in your sins and face the true death, or you will trust in Christ and forsake this life to gain true life with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The author of this book is like a spoiled child who thinks God owes him an explanation. People suffer, and the Church prays for them, sometimes they are healed by God sometimes they are not. But it is all for Gods glory and his will is always accomplished. God has already given us the answer to and the cure for sickness, death and all other illnesses. Its call Salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ! Repent, look to Jesus, read the Bible and Pray that God will open your eyes.

    2 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    Suffering

    The same question I have. I recommend it. Like all his books, good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2013

    Many of us have asked those same questions. And still there are

    Many of us have asked those same questions. And still there are no answers other than the obvious. I found the book to be refreshing and thought provoking. Some have critized the book by saying it was false and how could anyone expect there to be no suffering in the world. It would appear that from those statement, some people did not understand what was being said and were not looking at the subject in detail. The issue of Born with Sin has always been a questionable subject for many and I found that they way Prof Ehrman presents his arguments are very sound and difficult to just throw away as it being non-orthodox. Interested in reading a book that provides the difficult questions without the standard answer, this is the one to get. If you are a believe in the Bible being literally the word of God, then do not buy this book as you will be angry and disappointed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    INTERESTING QUESTIONS ON WHY WE SUFFER, BUT TOO NEGATIVE

    ALTHOUGH I UNDERSTOOD THE FRUSTRATION EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR AS TO WHY A BENEVOLENT GOD WOULD ALLOW THERE TO BE MUCH SUFFERING, I DID NOT AGREE WITH HIS OUTLOOK. I KEPT THINKING WE SUFFER BECAUSE THAT IS PART OF THE NATURAL AND PHYSICAL WORLD. THE BOOK AND QUESTIONS WERE THOUGHT PROVOKING, BUT I MUCH PREFERRED HIS OTHER BOOKS LIKE "LOST CHRISTIANITIES" AND "LOST SCRIPTURES" AND "MISQUOTING JESUS"

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2008

    Misunderstanding

    So now God is responsible for human suffering? All the things that have happened to humanity are caused because of the humans' bad actions¿-not only to themselves, but to earth. Don't try to blame God for things he hasn't even done. Humans are the ones responsible for all the things that occur on earth, consciously or unconsciously. God allows things to happen 'ex. Cain killed Abel', but He will judge everyone according to their deeds.

    1 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2008

    A reviewer

    ...in several ways as indicated by this book. The biblical answer to 'why' we suffer is found in Genesis 3 just after Adam and Eve sin. God clearly indicates that because of their sin against Him, they will suffer. And no one after them is exempt because we are all children of sin. But more importantly, we suffer because our 'sorrow,' so to speak, builds character. It's not WHAT you go through, but HOW you go through it. And notice that I said 'go 'through' .' God WILL bring you through it. But that requires being faithful, not disputing His Authority, Perfect Will, and Word. WATCH THIS: The world's most desired and most precious stone - the diamond - would not exist if it weren't for the high pressure applied to create it. Be thankful for your trials and tribulations. It means God cares enough about you to work on creating a magnificent, brilliant being. He cares enough to scold you as you would your own children when you want to instill valuable lessons in them. I'd be more worried if we DIDN'T suffer. What would THAT say about God? Sade

    1 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    Good argument. However, remember that the Bible has never been big on 'why.' It is big on 'how'. That's important because although 'why' will give us knowledge, 'how' will us power.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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