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

( 31 )

Overview

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.

"[God's Problem is a] serious inquiry....Ehrman pursues it with an energy and goodwill that invite further conversation with sympathetic and unsympathetic readers alike. This book neither trivializes its subject nor demonizes those who have a ...

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God's Problem

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Overview

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.

"[God's Problem is a] serious inquiry....Ehrman pursues it with an energy and goodwill that invite further conversation with sympathetic and unsympathetic readers alike. This book neither trivializes its subject nor demonizes those who have a different view of it, which is more than can be said for the efforts of those fashionable atheist writers whose major form of argument would seem to be ridicule."—STANLEY FISH for the New York Times

"[God's Problem] is a book worth reading even by believers. The author knows his Bible well, and describes the content of the pertinent biblical passages objectively and clearly. And sometimes his agnostic perspective can sharpen the understanding of believers and challenge us to view the Bible and the human condition in a fresh light."—AMERICA

"[An] entrapped invocation of a God who is not believed in, but is nonetheless despised, is what gives the book a rough power...[Ehrman] is a lucid expositor."—THE NEW YORKER

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman began his career with impeccable Christian credentials, with degrees from Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and Princeton Theological Seminary. Though he had been drawn to biblical studies because of his evangelical beliefs, Ehrman gradually came to doubt claims about Jesus' divinity and resurrection. His 2006 Misquoting Jesus, which enunciated his new conclusions, became a surprise bestseller. In God's Problems, Dr. Ehrman addresses questions about the Bible in a non-dogmatic yet skeptical way.
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 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This serious book by a serious scholar will be talked about and cannot be ignored by any collection. Ehrman (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why) is a New York Timesbest-selling author and a familiar media figure in the scholarly discussion of the New Testament. Here, he turns from his usual historical-critical concerns to theological consideration of the problem of suffering: namely, if God is all-powerful and all-loving, how can suffering exist? Ehrman writes in a clear and engaging style, bringing personal reflection and reason to bear on academically sound readings of biblical perspectives on suffering, from both the Old and the New Testament. Ultimately, the book is a very personal statement that will anger some and resonate with others; most important, it will provoke mature consideration of this very important question. For all libraries.
—Darby Orcutt

San Diego Tribune
“Ehrman, a prolific and popular author, has put his journey into words in a new book “God’s Problem. ...Ehrman actually ends “God’s Problem” on an upbeat note, a kind of call to arms for people to be good—to themselves and to others...”
The New Yorker
“[An] entrapped invocation of a God who is not believed in, but is nonetheless despised, is what gives the book a rough power. …[Ehrman] is a lucid expositor…”
Booklist
“Ehrman’s clarity, simplicity, and congeniality help make this a superb introduction to its subject.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061173929
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 337,439
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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

Chapter One

Suffering and a Crisis of Faith

If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering? The problem of suffering has haunted me for a very long time. It was what made me begin to think about religion when I was young, and it was what led me to question my faith when I was older. Ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith. This book tries to explore some aspects of the problem, especially as they are reflected in the Bible, whose authors too grappled with the pain and misery in the world.

To explain why the problem matters so much to me, I need to give a bit of personal background. For most of my life I was a devout and committed Christian. I was baptized in a Congregational church and reared as an Episcopalian, becoming an altar boy when I was twelve and continuing all the way through high school. Early in my high school days I started attending a Youth for Christ club and had a "born-again" experience—which, looking back, seems a bit strange: I had been involved in church, believing in Christ, praying to God, confessing my sins, and so on for years. What exactly did I need to convert from? I think I was converting from hell—I didn't want to experience eternal torment with the poor souls who had not been "saved"; I much preferred the option of heaven. In any event, when I became born again it was like ratcheting my religion up a notch. I became very serious about my faith and chose to go off to a fundamentalist Bible college—Moody Bible Institutein Chicago—where I began training for ministry.

I worked hard at learning the Bible—some of it by heart. I could quote entire books of the New Testament, verse by verse, from memory. When I graduated from Moody with a diploma in Bible and Theology (at the time Moody did not offer a B.A. degree), I went off to finish my college work at Wheaton, an evangelical Christian college in Illinois (also Billy Graham's alma mater). There I learned Greek so that I could read the New Testament in its original language. From there I decided that I wanted to commit my life to studying the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and chose to go to Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school whose brilliant faculty included Bruce Metzger, the greatest textual scholar in the country. At Princeton I did both a master of divinity degree—training to be a minister—and, eventually, a Ph.D. in New Testament studies.

I'm giving this brief synopsis to show that I had solid Christian credentials and knew about the Christian faith from the inside out—in the years before I lost my faith.

During my time in college and seminary I was actively involved in a number of churches. At home, in Kansas, I had left the Episcopal church because, strange as this might sound, I didn't think it was serious enough about religion (I was pretty hard-core in my evangelical phase); instead I went a couple of times a week to a Plymouth Brethren Bible Chapel (among those who really believed!). When I was away from home, living in Chicago, I served as the youth pastor of an Evangelical Covenant church. During my seminary years in New Jersey I attended a conservative Presbyterian church and then an American Baptist church. When I graduated from seminary I was asked to fill the pulpit in the Baptist church while they looked for a full-time minister. And so for a year I was pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church, preaching every Sunday morning, holding prayer groups and Bible studies, visiting the sick in the hospital, and performing the regular pastoral duties for the community.

But then, for a variety of reasons that I'll mention in a moment, I started to lose my faith. I now have lost it altogether. I no longer go to church, no longer believe, no longer consider myself a Christian. The subject of this book is the reason why.

In an earlier book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, I have indicated that my strong commitment to the Bible began to wane the more I studied it. I began to realize that rather than being an inerrant revelation from God, inspired in its very words (the view I had at Moody Bible Institute), the Bible was a very human book with all the marks of having come from human hands: discrepancies, contradictions, errors, and different perspectives of different authors living at different times in different countries and writing for different reasons to different audiences with different needs. But the problems of the Bible are not what led me to leave the faith. These problems simply showed me that my evangelical beliefs about the Bible could not hold up, in my opinion, to critical scrutiny. I continued to be a Christian—a completely committed Christian—for many years after I left the evangelical fold.

Eventually, though, I felt compelled to leave Christianity altogether. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known since childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenaged years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It's a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many -people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

God's Problem
How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer
. Copyright © by Bart Ehrman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
Suffering and a Crisis of Faith     1
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: The Classical View of Suffering     31
More Sin and More Wrath: The dominance of the Classical View of Suffering     83
The Consequences of Sin     137
The Mystery of the Greater Good: Redemptive Suffering     189
Does Suffering Make Sense? The Books of Job and Ecclesiastes     241
God Has the Last Word: Jewish-Christian Apocalypticism     297
More Apocalyptic Views: God's Ultimate Triumph over Evil     347
Suffering: The Conclusion     399
Notes     427
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

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(15)

4 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • 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.

    5 out of 5 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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  • 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.

    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 33 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 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.

    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 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 20, 2014

    Nightheart

    Darn i missed it. Are we having an apprentice ceremony soon? Stormkit, and Pearlkit are 6 moons now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2014

    Wolfkit

    (Oops. Results got moved. Five or four.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2014

    Pebblekit

    Here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2014

    Espeonflame

    Dipped her head(almost missed it srry)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2014

    Skycove

    Smiled and bowed her head.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2014

    LightStar~Unofficial Ceremony

    Stormpaw-Nightmare <p> TARDISpaw-TARDISfur <p> Anything I forgot? Tell me! Our clan name is AirClan or DarkClan, vote on which is better! :( Sorry the ceremony isn't good, I have RL issues!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2014

    Birchpaw

    Dipped his head to Lightstar

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  • Posted June 10, 2012

    Not at all convincing.

    I was looking forward to reading this book and I expected it would have some valid points. Points are brought up, but with very weak arguments. I just feel that this book is biased from the beginning. To think that we can live a life without suffering is a bit unrealistic. Just dissapointed.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2012

    I have read perhaps 25 books on theodicy and I would rate this t

    I have read perhaps 25 books on theodicy and I would rate this the least helpful of any (and some were pretty bad). It is a good rehashing of Scripture, but with few helpful conclusions except Bart's own issues with the Bible. After reading the book it seems to me that it is not &quot;God's Problem,&quot; but Ehrman's problem. A good introduction, but not a worthy effort by one recognized as a scholar.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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