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

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

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by Bart D. Ehrman
     
 

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

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

Editorial Reviews

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.)

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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.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781615542307
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/19/2008
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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.

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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God's Problem 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
CathyG More than 1 year ago
Chronicles the author's personal journey of faith and the loss of it, using events of his life and biblical study to explain the loss. Ehrman does not try to persuade the reader to change their views but offers reasons why he came to his conclusions about suffering and faith. The book makes one ponder long accepted beliefs still taught today.
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George_Appleby More than 1 year ago
One preconceived notion that I had before reading the book was that I would be not able to defend against the arguments Dr. Ehrman presented in this very controversial title, but I was wrong. I think misinterpretation of scripture and a misunderstanding of God led Dr. Ehrman to the conclusions he now holds. As far as clarity and style of writing are concerned, the work was brilliant and very gripping. I enjoyed the read and am glad that I have the book, but I am not convinced as to the thesis presented.
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Bukworm More than 1 year ago
Ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses...they will answer this with the Bible itself!
BillA More than 1 year ago
If you, like Professor Ehrman, dislike Christianity (though he is a professor of same!!) and believe it is all a fairy tale, you might like this. For myself, I found his imaginings interestingly bizarre. I definitely would not recommend his books to any but someone wishing to reinforce his or her anti-Christianity.