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

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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 ...

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2008 Hardcover First edition As New in as new jacket How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. Hardcover. 289 pp. with general index, scripture ... index. AS NEW IN DUST JACKET. Read more Show Less

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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.
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.”
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: 9780061173974
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/19/2008
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (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

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( 51 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • 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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  • 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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  • Posted March 11, 2009

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    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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  • 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 February 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Thought provoking

    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.

    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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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    A good read, but not convincing.

    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.

    1 out of 2 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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  • Posted March 4, 2011

    Don't read this..you don't need to

    Ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses...they will answer this with the Bible itself!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    another anti-Christian rant

    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.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2008

    NOT TRUE

    This book is simple the writer is just bitter because life did not go as planed and tries to blame our all mighty god for that

    0 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2008

    You can never judge the Bible by its stories

    To conclude about G-d based on stories of the Bible would be like condeming your abilities based on couple of failures. There are so many contradictions in the Bible indicating that to perceive G-d is beyond our intellect or logic. The fact you put your fingers in the socket does it mean electricity is bad? Or is it simply I need to know how the laws of electricity work to produce heat. Same way in our life.

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2008

    Don't push GOD.

    GOD can do all things but fail as for human being we are not perfect. Why we suffer is because of Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Because of them GOD said that every generation shall be cursed. We as human beings are not supposed to add nor subtract words from the bible.

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2009

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    Posted July 14, 2010

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    Posted December 7, 2009

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    Posted September 14, 2010

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