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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.

Topics: Jesus, The Bible, Ethics, Miracles, Suicide, Murder, War, Gospel, Redemption, Philosophical, and Essays

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061744402
List price: $11.99
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A Bible scholar looks at attempts to deal with the problem of suffering in the Bible. Ehrman says in this book that he moved from evangelical Christianity to agnosticism because he could not reconcile Biblical explanations of suffering with what he sees and experiences. This is a fascinating book but it doesn't, to my mind, address the problem of suffering in all its complexity.more
This book is bit more personal than others Ehrman has written. Ehrman's inability to reconcile a world overwhelmed with sufferiung with an all-powerful, compassionate God drove him to agnosticism. As in his other books, Ehrman's approach is scholarly but completely accessible as he examines biblical responses to suffering. A compelling, insightful, and provocative inquiry.more
This is good and interesting in parts, but I think it's directed at someone who is still on the fence about belief in a Christian god, so much of it is uninteresting to me. Way more in-depth theological discussion and comparison than I was interested in. He does make some excellent points, but there are more succinct ways of getting the same message, I'm sure.more
If there is a God why does he allow or initiate suffering? This is the profound question of this book and the Hebrew and Christian faiths.more
Well argued, clear and well written discourse on why suffering exists if a god also exists.more
I’ve been wanting to read Ehrman’s work for quite a while, and this one did not disappoint. In God’s Problem Dr. Ehrman delineates the several kinds of suffering in the Bible; suffering because Believers turned away from God and His law, suffering because Believers are His chosen people, suffering to prove God’s greatness (i.e. Job), etc. Each level can be backed up with passages from the Bible, but what Ehrman does is point out where these themes of suffering clash with each other, and with life as we know it. Further, Ehrman contextualizes it in terms of the historic placement within society at the time of the biblical writing and compares it to how modern society (and Christians) view these writings. While Ehrman offers these comparisons, he’s not afraid to say that no one knows for sure why suffering happens and frequently wonders how if God is so loving, how He can let such horrendous things occur in our world. A question older than the writings in the Bible itself. Based on this book, I know I’ll be reading more of Ehrman’s work.more
I think this is the best of Ehrman's books. It asks the question that I ahve often asked- how can a loving God allow so much apparently needless suffering? And Ehrman, coming from a completely different religious background to me- evangelical compared to atheist/agnostic- has the courage to say that what he found has caused him to lose his faith. I suppose he was preaching to the converted in my case, but I have asked myself the same questions and it was nice to see him trawl the Bible and discuss its various appraches to this question. I dont want to offend believers so I wont go any further in this review than to ask that people ask, the next time a disaster happens and some survivor praises God for saving them- Why didnt God save the others too?more
Ehrman has become one of my favorite writers in the realm of Biblical and extra-Biblical/Gnostic studies. A very clear understanding of the various reasons for suffering that are offered in the Bible (which are prevalent throughout the culture), as well as his own speculation/journey from Christian to agnostic. Makes me want to read "The Brothers Karamazov" again.more
This is Ehrman's rather personal look at the issue that caused him to "de-convert:" the existence of evil and, in his view, an insufficient answer or divine action regarding evil. The author spends most of the book going through the various answers that the Bible presents to explain the existence of evil: consequence of sin, free will, redemptive suffering, no real answer, and the apocalyptic perspective of the world being under the control of evil forces. The explanations are quite approachable, and, on the whole, fairly accurate, save for the author's prejudice toward the scholarly explanations for the Old and New Testaments. In the end, the work is deeply unsatisfying. Different answers for different situations are deemed "contradictory." Furthermore, when attempting to "refute" the various perspectives, strawman arguments are brought up. He rejects the apocalyptic view for highly questionable reasons, partly due to his (ironically) "fundamentalist" perspective on what the Kingdom "must be." His rejection of the concept of redemptive suffering is also quite facile, and does not really take into account the theological power behind God allowing His own Son to suffer, and the implications such has for the question.Ultimately, the book is unsatisfying because "evil" is really never defined, and the author's rather modernist, post-Enlightenment view seems to handle the question of what "evil" is on a quite facile level. The author would also exalt the position of man and his intelligence, and his interpretation of God's response to Job is quite telling in that regard. The book represents a good explanation of various Biblical perspectives, but the author's interpretation and philosophical presuppositions that color them are quite unsatisfying.more
My favorite of Ehrman's books--with Misquoting Jesus a close second. The book is heartfelt and convincing. I now better understand why sentiments such as "everything happens for a reason" and "this is the best of all possible worlds" and "we suffer because we have free will" are bothersome. Ehrman doesn't write to argue anyone out of faith, but this book does encourage a thoughtful examination of religious explanations of/justifications for suffering.more
This book is part personal spiritual memoir and part biblical analysis. It comes across as a rambling lecture by a bible professor who likes to tell stores about himself and expound on world history in addition to discussing the biblical subject at hand. The combination kept my interest while providing an educational experience.Mr. Ehrman provides a thorough review of Biblical views of evil and suffering that includes both the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament. He uses easy to understand language, and when academic and theological terms are used they are clearly defined. His analysis of the book of Job I found to be particularly well done. Mr. Ehrman can now evaluate the book of Job without trying to defend God's actions, now that he has publicly announced that he's an agnostic.Yes it's true! He states early in the book that he now considers himself to be an agnostic. And that is after starting out as an evangelical fundamentalist and attending the conservative bastions of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Wow, what a roller coaster ride that must have been!I am sympathetic with his spiritual journey except that the beginning and ending points are less extreme in my own case. However, I wish Mr. Ehrman had mentioned some of the alternative concepts of God that he apparently passed over on his journey from being fundamentalist to becoming agnostic. Ehrman is sufficiently well informed to know that there are images of God that don't require God to be a divine and cosmic baby sitter. Ehrman has concluded that since there is suffering in the world, God can't possibly be anything that is humanly imaginable. Does this include a God who simply doesn't intervene in the physical universe? Does that include a God who is the "ground of being?" Perhaps Ehrman didn't want to hurt his book sales by trying to discuss difficult to understand concepts of God. He wanted to make sure he got his share of the "No-God" genre by staking out a position somewhere between Richard Dawkins and Billy Graham.more
Bart Ehrman writes clearly and knowledgeably about the Bible. I've enjoyed many of his books, (and lectures) and have always found them informative and engaging. This book adds a passionate, personal, human dimensionto his work that is very compelling. A wonderful blend of personal anecdote, entirely human philosophicalmusing, and compelling and thorough research and analysis. Highly recommended.more
I really like Bart Ehrman's writing. He is a knowledgeable scholar, and he asks important questions and doesn't settle for easy answers. This book talks of his life as a Christian... growing up in mainstream Christianity, then having a born-again experience and devoting himself to evangelical Christianity, then becoming a Biblical scholar in order to understand the texts of the Bible. His scholarship is incredible... not only can he talk knowledgeably about the various texts of the Bible we have, but about the Bible's textual scholars from the early years of Christianity on. In this book, Ehrman talks about why and how he lost his Christian faith and became an agnostic, and it has to do with the question of human suffering. The problem boils down to this... God is all powerful, God is all loving, but suffering exists... deep relentless suffering of the innocent as well as the not-so-innocent. Ehrman discusses the viewpoints of suffering in the Bible itself. The majority of the texts are from the prophets for whom suffering is the consequence of sin and the punishment for it. He also talks a lot about the apocalyptic vision in which, for some unknown reason, the adversary of god has become powerful and causes human suffering, and that suffering is to be relieved when God decides to stop it. Problem was, it was pretty clear that every generation saw the time of the Rapture as coming NOW. Ehrman himself comes closest to the view of Ecclesiastes, which is that suffering and joy are both quite real, and a mystery, but we should help alleviate suffering and enjoy that which is good.I realize this summary does not do justice to the book and its depth and complexity of argument. Ehrman isn't interested in glib answers. He talks about the strengths and fallacies of all the arguments. For example, many people tell him that suffering is a result of God's allowing his creation free will. Ehrman just doesn't believe that answers why so many suffer in natural disasters, just and unjust alike, and why so many suffer from the time they are born.Excellent overview of a complex and important topic.more
Slow, dry, and I couldn't help but think that the author was missing the point.more
Anyone who's been awoken by Jehovah's Witnesses on Saturday mornings knows that the question of why God allows suffering is a despirate problem for believers of the Bible. For some, it is enough of a problem to convince them of the non-existance of the Abrahamic God. Ehrman, the author of Misquoting Jesus, is a Biblical scholar, professor, and former Born-Again Christian. His latest book puts for 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.more
Read all 20 reviews

Reviews

A Bible scholar looks at attempts to deal with the problem of suffering in the Bible. Ehrman says in this book that he moved from evangelical Christianity to agnosticism because he could not reconcile Biblical explanations of suffering with what he sees and experiences. This is a fascinating book but it doesn't, to my mind, address the problem of suffering in all its complexity.more
This book is bit more personal than others Ehrman has written. Ehrman's inability to reconcile a world overwhelmed with sufferiung with an all-powerful, compassionate God drove him to agnosticism. As in his other books, Ehrman's approach is scholarly but completely accessible as he examines biblical responses to suffering. A compelling, insightful, and provocative inquiry.more
This is good and interesting in parts, but I think it's directed at someone who is still on the fence about belief in a Christian god, so much of it is uninteresting to me. Way more in-depth theological discussion and comparison than I was interested in. He does make some excellent points, but there are more succinct ways of getting the same message, I'm sure.more
If there is a God why does he allow or initiate suffering? This is the profound question of this book and the Hebrew and Christian faiths.more
Well argued, clear and well written discourse on why suffering exists if a god also exists.more
I’ve been wanting to read Ehrman’s work for quite a while, and this one did not disappoint. In God’s Problem Dr. Ehrman delineates the several kinds of suffering in the Bible; suffering because Believers turned away from God and His law, suffering because Believers are His chosen people, suffering to prove God’s greatness (i.e. Job), etc. Each level can be backed up with passages from the Bible, but what Ehrman does is point out where these themes of suffering clash with each other, and with life as we know it. Further, Ehrman contextualizes it in terms of the historic placement within society at the time of the biblical writing and compares it to how modern society (and Christians) view these writings. While Ehrman offers these comparisons, he’s not afraid to say that no one knows for sure why suffering happens and frequently wonders how if God is so loving, how He can let such horrendous things occur in our world. A question older than the writings in the Bible itself. Based on this book, I know I’ll be reading more of Ehrman’s work.more
I think this is the best of Ehrman's books. It asks the question that I ahve often asked- how can a loving God allow so much apparently needless suffering? And Ehrman, coming from a completely different religious background to me- evangelical compared to atheist/agnostic- has the courage to say that what he found has caused him to lose his faith. I suppose he was preaching to the converted in my case, but I have asked myself the same questions and it was nice to see him trawl the Bible and discuss its various appraches to this question. I dont want to offend believers so I wont go any further in this review than to ask that people ask, the next time a disaster happens and some survivor praises God for saving them- Why didnt God save the others too?more
Ehrman has become one of my favorite writers in the realm of Biblical and extra-Biblical/Gnostic studies. A very clear understanding of the various reasons for suffering that are offered in the Bible (which are prevalent throughout the culture), as well as his own speculation/journey from Christian to agnostic. Makes me want to read "The Brothers Karamazov" again.more
This is Ehrman's rather personal look at the issue that caused him to "de-convert:" the existence of evil and, in his view, an insufficient answer or divine action regarding evil. The author spends most of the book going through the various answers that the Bible presents to explain the existence of evil: consequence of sin, free will, redemptive suffering, no real answer, and the apocalyptic perspective of the world being under the control of evil forces. The explanations are quite approachable, and, on the whole, fairly accurate, save for the author's prejudice toward the scholarly explanations for the Old and New Testaments. In the end, the work is deeply unsatisfying. Different answers for different situations are deemed "contradictory." Furthermore, when attempting to "refute" the various perspectives, strawman arguments are brought up. He rejects the apocalyptic view for highly questionable reasons, partly due to his (ironically) "fundamentalist" perspective on what the Kingdom "must be." His rejection of the concept of redemptive suffering is also quite facile, and does not really take into account the theological power behind God allowing His own Son to suffer, and the implications such has for the question.Ultimately, the book is unsatisfying because "evil" is really never defined, and the author's rather modernist, post-Enlightenment view seems to handle the question of what "evil" is on a quite facile level. The author would also exalt the position of man and his intelligence, and his interpretation of God's response to Job is quite telling in that regard. The book represents a good explanation of various Biblical perspectives, but the author's interpretation and philosophical presuppositions that color them are quite unsatisfying.more
My favorite of Ehrman's books--with Misquoting Jesus a close second. The book is heartfelt and convincing. I now better understand why sentiments such as "everything happens for a reason" and "this is the best of all possible worlds" and "we suffer because we have free will" are bothersome. Ehrman doesn't write to argue anyone out of faith, but this book does encourage a thoughtful examination of religious explanations of/justifications for suffering.more
This book is part personal spiritual memoir and part biblical analysis. It comes across as a rambling lecture by a bible professor who likes to tell stores about himself and expound on world history in addition to discussing the biblical subject at hand. The combination kept my interest while providing an educational experience.Mr. Ehrman provides a thorough review of Biblical views of evil and suffering that includes both the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament. He uses easy to understand language, and when academic and theological terms are used they are clearly defined. His analysis of the book of Job I found to be particularly well done. Mr. Ehrman can now evaluate the book of Job without trying to defend God's actions, now that he has publicly announced that he's an agnostic.Yes it's true! He states early in the book that he now considers himself to be an agnostic. And that is after starting out as an evangelical fundamentalist and attending the conservative bastions of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Wow, what a roller coaster ride that must have been!I am sympathetic with his spiritual journey except that the beginning and ending points are less extreme in my own case. However, I wish Mr. Ehrman had mentioned some of the alternative concepts of God that he apparently passed over on his journey from being fundamentalist to becoming agnostic. Ehrman is sufficiently well informed to know that there are images of God that don't require God to be a divine and cosmic baby sitter. Ehrman has concluded that since there is suffering in the world, God can't possibly be anything that is humanly imaginable. Does this include a God who simply doesn't intervene in the physical universe? Does that include a God who is the "ground of being?" Perhaps Ehrman didn't want to hurt his book sales by trying to discuss difficult to understand concepts of God. He wanted to make sure he got his share of the "No-God" genre by staking out a position somewhere between Richard Dawkins and Billy Graham.more
Bart Ehrman writes clearly and knowledgeably about the Bible. I've enjoyed many of his books, (and lectures) and have always found them informative and engaging. This book adds a passionate, personal, human dimensionto his work that is very compelling. A wonderful blend of personal anecdote, entirely human philosophicalmusing, and compelling and thorough research and analysis. Highly recommended.more
I really like Bart Ehrman's writing. He is a knowledgeable scholar, and he asks important questions and doesn't settle for easy answers. This book talks of his life as a Christian... growing up in mainstream Christianity, then having a born-again experience and devoting himself to evangelical Christianity, then becoming a Biblical scholar in order to understand the texts of the Bible. His scholarship is incredible... not only can he talk knowledgeably about the various texts of the Bible we have, but about the Bible's textual scholars from the early years of Christianity on. In this book, Ehrman talks about why and how he lost his Christian faith and became an agnostic, and it has to do with the question of human suffering. The problem boils down to this... God is all powerful, God is all loving, but suffering exists... deep relentless suffering of the innocent as well as the not-so-innocent. Ehrman discusses the viewpoints of suffering in the Bible itself. The majority of the texts are from the prophets for whom suffering is the consequence of sin and the punishment for it. He also talks a lot about the apocalyptic vision in which, for some unknown reason, the adversary of god has become powerful and causes human suffering, and that suffering is to be relieved when God decides to stop it. Problem was, it was pretty clear that every generation saw the time of the Rapture as coming NOW. Ehrman himself comes closest to the view of Ecclesiastes, which is that suffering and joy are both quite real, and a mystery, but we should help alleviate suffering and enjoy that which is good.I realize this summary does not do justice to the book and its depth and complexity of argument. Ehrman isn't interested in glib answers. He talks about the strengths and fallacies of all the arguments. For example, many people tell him that suffering is a result of God's allowing his creation free will. Ehrman just doesn't believe that answers why so many suffer in natural disasters, just and unjust alike, and why so many suffer from the time they are born.Excellent overview of a complex and important topic.more
Slow, dry, and I couldn't help but think that the author was missing the point.more
Anyone who's been awoken by Jehovah's Witnesses on Saturday mornings knows that the question of why God allows suffering is a despirate problem for believers of the Bible. For some, it is enough of a problem to convince them of the non-existance of the Abrahamic God. Ehrman, the author of Misquoting Jesus, is a Biblical scholar, professor, and former Born-Again Christian. His latest book puts for 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.more
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