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

by Bart D. Ehrman
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God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061744402
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 194,215
File size: 791 KB

About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestsellers How Jesus Became God; Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus, Interrupted; and Forged. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and top NPR programs, as well as been featured in TIME, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other publications. He lives in Durham, North Carolina. Visit the author online at www.bartdehrman.com.

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.

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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God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
MaryTheresa More than 1 year ago
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.
M_L_Gooch_SPHR More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
SeekerIN More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The same question I have. I recommend it. Like all his books, good read.
Fecklar More than 1 year ago
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.
Still_Inquisitive More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Humans get desperate when bad things happen to them, things that they cannot control or handle: such as parents, children, their loved pets die get sick or suffer. Thie whole world darkens and they lose the fight. We are all weak and lonely. We expect more from God for ourselves or others that are starving, hurt, shot, raped, killed etc. The main Question is that WHY GOD is allowing these things to happen? Yes, God has a plan for each of us. If you are happy, your food is provided , your family members are healthy , you say I am blessed. But How about the others? Jesus died for all of us, right? But simply we are not equally happy or secure or healthy or wealthy...In life not only people are mean and bad and you get hurt by them but also there are disasters, sicknesses, death. We sometimes say: We are blessed (but think inside they are not? we walk away and leave them to God's hands) This is what the writer is saying. He did write this book for different levels of believers, for different perspectives, this is exactly what makes this book interesting. He is a knowledgeable person about scripture but yet he is all there for people that cannot comprehend what the scripture says. He is by yourside explaining the facts that for centuries the unlucky or -not so blessed- people trying to resolve. At the end , at the peak part of the book, where he writes about the Dostoevsky's book: The Brothers Karamazov. The character Ivan , the older brother, who is an intellectual and a skeptic, believing God's existence, he also believes even if God were to reveal at the end of time the secret that made sense of al that had happened here on earth, it would not be enough. Ivan would still find the suffering in the world too horrible. For Ivan nothing can justify it. I think the same, if this is a world kind of a play that we have to take part in, the ticket price is too much to afford. I am not interested in seeing the play , conflicts and pain and disasters and the death are too real and hurt really bad. 'I want to return the ticket', but 'I myself cannot' so as the last pages of Ehrman's book says: Our response should be to work to alleviate suffering wherever possible and to live life as well as we can....I LOVED THE BOOK, it showed me that I am not alone and I am not pessimistic but REALISTIC. Thank You Prof. Ehrman to share your knowledge with us. The book is a plus in anyones life to widen the perspective how you look at life even when it does not make any sense sometimes....
Gregor1066 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Darn i missed it. Are we having an apprentice ceremony soon? Stormkit, and Pearlkit are 6 moons now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Oops. Results got moved. Five or four.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dipped her head(almost missed it srry)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smiled and bowed her head.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dipped his head to Lightstar
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.