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Publisher's Summary

In times of questioning and despair, people often quote the Bible to provide answers. Surprisingly, though, the Bible does not have one answer but many "answers" that often contradict one another. Consider these competing explanations for suffering put forth by various biblical writers:

The prophets: suffering is a punishment for sin.

The book of Job, which offers two different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; and suffering is beyond comprehension, since we are just human beings, and God, after all, is God.

Ecclesiastes: suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it.

All apocalyptic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world.

For renowned Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, the question of why there is so much suffering in the world is more than a haunting thought. Ehrman's inability to reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of real life led the former pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church to reject Christianity.

In God's Problem, Ehrman discusses his personal anguish upon discovering the Bible's contradictory explanations for suffering and invites all people of faith - or no faith - to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world and each of us.

©2008 Bart D. Ehrman; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Kaeli
  • Irving, TX, USA
  • 05-03-08

Despite "Suffer the little children"

Ehrman's latest book puts forth the Scriptural answers for why there is suffering, in addition to historical and modern interpretations of these answers, and explains how these answers fall short. Each section examines a different suggestion for the problem of suffering and looks at New and Old Testement answers to them. Included are the ideas of suffering because of God-given Free Will, suffering as a test of faith, suffering as punishment, suffering to teach lessons, and suffering as an Apocolyptic sign-and of course that we cannot know God's reason for "allowing" suffering. He even includes the parent analogy-that God is like a parent who must punish His children. Though it is not as Scriptually founded as many of the other arguments, it is a common modern argument (right up there with Free Will).
A good protion of this book is set aside as Ehrman's own memoir of how he became (as he calls it) Dead Again-deciding that he no longer believes the tennets of his Born-Again faith and becoming an agnostic. This book is an excellent analysis of what many believers and non-believers grapple with, and many eventually come to the same conclusions he does-that the Bible does not explain in any real and satisfying way how an all-loving and all-powerful God can allow so many people to die of starvation, malaria, cruelty, etc-and he provides devistating statistics. It may also be useful for people trying to understand the position many take in not being able to believe in God-despite this, Ehrman is NOT an atheist, nor is he trying to convert anything. He presents the literary/Biblical criticism of Scripture,tries to understand it, and applies classic philosophy to the arguements he's heard. This book never came close to making me question my own faith, but it has lead me to think more closely about some of the more painful aspects of divinity.

Good narration that matches the tone of the author's meaning.

29 of 35 people found this review helpful

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  • GARY
  • victorville, CA, United States
  • 02-12-13

A Great Original View of God, "A Must Read"

What made the experience of listening to God's Problem the most enjoyable?

This is the third book I have read from Mr. Ehrman, he really has a world class bible background. It is so clear he has spent his whole life thinking of this topic. It is well thought through and recored very well. This book really does a great job in asking the question "Why does God allow so much suffering in the world", not just present day but as it seems, our entire past! He uses common sence in his presentation, he is more middle of the road then Richard Dawkins, not that I don't love his work, just a very differant style.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Terry
  • United States
  • 03-15-11

No Problems here

I have read several of Bert Ehrman books and all of them have been educational, surprising and enlightening. This book is of a little different tone then I am use to from Ehrman but was none the less very good. He, for the first time, seems to put his belief or opinion forward in this discussion. I feel as though I got to know him better and therefore got to know what motivates him in writing his books. I did find that the main theme through the book, suffering, was a little scary and came very close to home. You see I listen to his books as I take my best friend and companion out for a walk every night. But just as the book was about to end my boxer took ill and died in my back yard of a cardiac arrest. He was only 5 1/2 years of age. To make an already bad story even worse this was the second boxer that I had that died young. I still have the last 5 minutes of the book to finish listening to but I just can’t muster the courage. So the question put forward in this book became relevant. If there is a God why would he let such things happen? uuuummmm...Not sure I can answer that but I can recommend you read this book. Good Luck

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Byron
  • Venice, CA, USA
  • 09-13-08

Excellent scholarship; below average literature

I've been following Dr. Ehrman for several years now, and I've enjoyed listening to his interviews (especially on Fresh Air with Terry Gross). He's a wealth of knowledge, and he understands Christianity as an ex-insider. Unfortunately, his writing style in "God's Problem" undermines the authority of his scholarly credentials. The references to wine varietals and microbrews trivialize the weight of his scholarship. His many extra-biblical examples of suffering do the same. Readers shouldn't need to be convinced that suffering is a real problem. Feeling it necessary to convince us, one time should have been enough, but he lists social problems ad nauseum. Some are compelling, but all detract from the gravity of the theological issue. The autobiographical portions likewise weaken the tone of his authority. But "God's Problem" does drive home the central issue of the problem of suffering, and I applaud any effort to awaken people to the deficiencies of religion. Unfortunately, religious people are not likely to fairly consider Ehrman's reading of Scripture.

Dr. Ehrman ignores related philosophical problems such as free will, casually asserting its existence. This is unfortunate. I hope that readers will supplement their study of the subject with other sources.

Finally, I did not enjoy L.J. Ganzer's narration. It seemed to highlight the text's tonal deficiencies.

16 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Holy books written wholey by men

This book gives you the historical facts about who, how and when things were written and changed and then changed again and then changed some more.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Barry
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 01-17-13

Calling it like he sees it

Ehrman is a deep thinker and not afraid to critique the Bible on objective terms. Here he is interested in the problem of suffering, and specifically in what the Judeo-Christian Bible has to say about it. That is his area of expertise, and that is (largely) what he chooses to limit himself to. He goes into some length about each of the answers the Bible provides as to why there is suffering. It's not giving anything away to say that he finds all these answers less than satisfying.

Along the way, he has a lot to share about what the context in which the biblical writings are to be understood, from both a theological and historical viewpoint. It's all really fascinating stuff. Sometimes I wish he would focus more on the analysis than on paraphrasing the texts he's discussing. You can tell that he is still deeply enthusiastic about these writings, even if they no longer hold the same meaning for him that they once did. He seems to be easily distracted from his main thesis which is to find an explanation for why there is suffering in the world.

Eventually he does in fact get around to analyzing and critiquing the answers supplied by the texts. For me, this was the more interesting part of the book. I kind of wished he would have delved outside the Bible, but that would have been outside the bounds of the inquiry he set for himself. He actually does reference a couple other sources. Of special significance is an extended discussion on Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.

I will not disclose what Ehrman's conclusion is about suffering. I will say that one key question he poses is why God should not be held accountable to the same standards of right and wrong that He has set for human beings.

OK, time to go re-read The Brothers Karamazov.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Introduction to Theodicy

I find this book captivating as it deals with the different ways the Bible explains the human condition, and as always, the author provides solid scholarship when it comes to Biblical history and textual criticism. The sincerity of his tone when talking about the suffering of human condition is a plus to the book. However, I found the discussion regards the philosophical problem of Theodicy rather superficial, I wish he could have explore the subject a little more in depth - as in spend one or two chapters in what he wittily called philosophically nuanced and obtruse subjects before wanders off to Newspaper headlines.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen
  • Moroni, UT, United States
  • 01-18-09

Great Book for understanding the God of the Bible

I have had many of the same questions myself that the authors discusses in the book. Why is God so mean? Why does he seem to want to kill and punish all the time? Why is he so jealous? And of what? Mr Erhman is a very good writer and explains his positions well even if you may not agree with his conclusions. He show how the God in the Bible changed with time and settings.

Very good book.

8 of 13 people found this review helpful

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A Very thought-provoking book

Professor Ehrman has done it again: made the reader/listener think long and hard about deeply-held beliefs and, as in his previous books, thoroughly analyses those beliefs and misconceptions.

If one thinks the "experts" in theology have simple explanations, think again. Not even the authors of the Biblical texts have consistent answers to the question of suffering.

Highly recommended!

9 of 15 people found this review helpful

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An interesting, worthwhile inquiry

As usual, Prof. Ehrman gives inquiring readers an interesting & worthwhile read. The deep mystery for Jewish & Christian believers is how all three of these propositions can simultaneously be true:

1. God is all powerful.

2. God is good.

3. God's human creatures suffer. Terribly. Even when they are innocent believers.

Nonbelievers might observe that the only proposition we can be sure of is #3. However, Prof. Ehrman is interested in how orthodox Jews and Christians have found answers to this deep puzzle in the Old and New Testaments. He gives the curious an excellent introduction to the history and logic of the answers they can find there.

Some readers may object to the repeated and lengthy excursions into actual human suffering that the good professor gives us. Many of us are already aware of the Holocaust, the Cambodian and Rwandan massacres, early death, suffering from terrible illness, injury, torture, and so on. Still, Ehrman writes engagingly, plainly and without cant, and he is a valuable guide to the basic question he addresses. The volume is very decently read. I recommend this book to a broad audience of believers and curious nonbelievers.

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  • R. Roberts
  • 07-18-15

Makes sense out of Biblical nonsense

Such a breath of fresh air after growing up with all the confused explanations of suffering given my by Christian mentors.

The second and third chapters found my mind wandering a bit but the rest of the book hit the nail on the head.

Although I would always prefer to hear the author himself (Ehrman narrates some of his other books) this was a very good performance.

The author crystallises the main reasons for suffering given by different Biblical authors and then after years of deep thought shares his personal views on each one.