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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  4,560 Ratings  ·  320 Reviews
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 differe
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 19th 2008 by HarperOne (first published 2008)
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Paul Bryant
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: godreads
Updated with a big quotation from an essay by Ron Rosenbaum added at the bottom for those interested.


Disclaimer : I just reread this review and it's very disrespectful to the topic at hand and portrays complex ideas in a crude cartoonlike and smirky way. There's a celebrity death match between God and Satan, a nervous Jewish spokesman, and something called The Lone Bangster.

Shakes head.


Does not get struck by lightning.


Okay. It could be that I read this book sadistically, having c
Aug 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Read this book.

I don’t care if you are a fundamentalist Christian or a wishy-washy Christian or a lapsed Christian or a never was Christian – the discussion here in this book is so important and so well put together that I would find it hard to believe that any thinking human being would not get something worthwhile out of it.

I’ve only recently finished reading another of his books – Misquoting Jesus. I came away from that book not really knowing if the author was a Christian or not – and really
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, religion

The Blasphemy in the Bible

The word for the day is: blas•phe•my, noun. The act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.

I was 8 or 9 years old, my parents were divorced, and we lived in an old house in Paso Robles. Life was good with my mother and siblings, until one day when I was running around in our yard and fell and skinned my knee. I came running into the house, calling for my mother. I needed help, I was bleeding all over the place, and I could even b
I don't like the title of this book. I think it should have been called Our Problem. And I don't mean Our Problem as is "reconciling human suffering with a loving creator-god is a problem, or puzzle, to be worked through." Likewise I don't mean Our Problem as in "we're the ones with a problem here, not God, because we're the small-minded creatures who can't understand the Creator's good plans for us all." No, I mean Our Problem as in "human suffering is a real problem in the world, and it's ou ...more
Sep 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Paul by:
This book is well written, no doubt there. Ehrman has a knack for writing to the “man on the street.” As such this book reads fast and smooth, much like his Misquoting Jesus. Thus, my low ranking is due to the content of the book, the cogency of the argumentation. This book is so chalk full of errors that the measly 10,000 characters goodreads gives isn’t enough. I could use 100,000 characters.

God's problem is that suffering exists and the Bible can't explain it. Ehrman tries to show this by not
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ever since reading Misquoting Jesus, I have been a fan of Bart Ehrman's. His books have the refreshing quality of being both informative and unpretentious. He doesn't bother with constructing academic or flowery prose, but is instead content to let simplicity carry the day. I believe his reward is a considerably larger audience than most authors in his field enjoy.

The thesis of this book is that the bible provides us with a number of views on suffering, and some of them are contradictory. You do
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My mum died from lung cancer, and experienced a level of suffering I never knew, and wish I didn't know, was possible. I remember the day she died - I asked my step dad's vicar why people suffer. She gave me some tin pot answer about free will which seem to imply that my mum had chosen to get lung cancer, that she 'deserved' it. My mum never smoked a day in her life and even if she had, does any 'deserve' or ask for that level of suffering? Isn't it bad enough that we have to die, that we have t ...more
Alan Fuller
Mar 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: atheism, philosophy
"...came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world." p. 4

Ehrman claims to be open to some god other than the Judeo-Christian one, but later he says;

"But there is no God up there, just above the sky, waiting to come “down” here or
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Discusses the various, sometimes contradictory, ways in which the Bible explains the existence and meaning of suffering. The author, no longer a believer, explores the reasons behind these explanations being formulated in their own time and evaluates their (in)adequacies generally and for thinking people today. His material on apocalyptic explanations and figures, including Jesus and Paul, was especially interesting to me.
Apr 27, 2008 rated it liked it
I heard Bart Ehrman speak on the radio. He teaches in Chapel Hill. He was speaking about how there is nothing redemptive in the suffering of parents who lost a child in an auto accident. He said this on the radio just as I was driving by the house where a friend of my son lived--he was an only child killed in a car accident a few years ago. I had to buy the book. I was also struck by his openness and understanding about faith--he is not writing from a position of antagonism.

As I read the book, I
Thomas Ray
If you were creating a universe, would you create it without suffering?

If you did, people would need neither intelligence nor compassion.

Also, if everything were perfect all the time, we wouldn't know it.

As Mark Twain noticed, happiness isn't a thing in itself, merely a contrast with something unpleasant.

We have the concept of health because there's disease. Ditto justice/injustice, and so on.

Twain noticed a Negro woman seemed always happy. He said, "Mammy, how is it you never had any trouble?"
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book. The author looks at a question none of us enjoys thinking of - why is there such overwhelming suffering in the world? Suffering comes in many forms, crimes, thuggery, personal oppression, wars, mudslides, tsunamis, mob mentality and genocide.

The 21st Century American mind finds it hard to comprehend the scope of suffering in the world and in history. Outside of personal tragedies involving disease and accidents, much of our exposure to suffering comes from television, newsp
Erik Graff
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: religion
Ehrman grew up a conservative Christian, breaking with the faith as a result, he says, of serious biblical study and of the theodicy problem. Not having had such a background, I look at the matter as an outsider, trying to understand how many Christians, Moslems, Jews and Zoroastrians attempt to reconcile human suffering with their notions of a Creator. As ever, Ehrman is a pleasure to read, his exposition of biblical theodicies both sensitive and clear. I do think, however, that he leaves out t ...more
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jodi by: my bff David :)
Why we suffer? This is a question that I continue to ask of my Christian faith. I was excited when this book was recommended to me because I hoped to get some insight into this question although once I checked it out from the library I kept putting it to the side and reading other things. Perhaps I didn't want to find out the answer to the question. I was forced to finally start the book this week as it is coming due, and I am so glad that I took the time to read it. The author examines the vari ...more
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Theologically, this book is blasphemous and will send those who believe it to eternal suffering in hell.

However, it is a helpful book in a couple of ways:

1. It gives a pretty good summary of how critical "scholars" view the composition and content of the Scriptures.

2. It is an honest description of Ehrman's path from evangelicalism to atheism.

3. It gives a glimpse into how theodicy is viewed by unbelievers.

Other than the fact that Ehrman is an unbeliever, he has one primary weakness in his under
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
Ehrman is a very talented writer. In this book he tackles difficult topics in a way that should be easily understood by the average reader. Each chapter begins with real-life illustrations of sufferings. Some of these are from Ehrman's life, he gets very personal discussing his father's experiences in World War II, while some are from the news, such as hurricanes, tsunamis and mudslides. These illustrations then lead into a discussion of the biblical data, with each chapter looking at a differen ...more
I have long been a fan of Bart Ehrman and have read (and for the most part greatly enjoyed) almost every book he has published, so along with this brief review I offer a sincere apology to the author for its relative unkindness.

The title is a misnomer: it states that the Bible fails to answer the question of why we suffer. But Ehrman devotes significant portions of the book to doing exactly that by explaining the different ways the Bible does answer the question of why we suffer: 1) Suffering is
Jul 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
There's much to say about this book, but let me try to be brief.

First, what's refreshing about dealing with Ehrman as opposed to some of the related writings of the new atheists, is that Ehrman knows the Bible and Christianity well. And while he is given to overstatement and conflation, he does get a number of things right. In this book, for example, the basic categories he lays out in terms of the biblical response to theodicy (the problem of evil) are pretty spot on. The Bible does have a num
Martin Beamer
As a pastor, I went in already hating the book. So, if I'm being honest, the author already had that against him as I went to read. However, before I bring anything negative up about the book, I do think the book was worth my read (and I think every pastor should read it) for a few reasons:

1) The author isn't antagonistic like many other authors toward Christians. He does, sometimes, say things off-handedly about the Bible and other facets of the Christian faith that I think are unnecessary wit
John Willis
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book written by a former pastor, who is now agnostic. I enjoyed his perspectives on suffering. I love his view at the end that we can all do so much more to help with the suffering, poverty, income inequality, etc, etc, etc, than what it seems that we as a nation of Christians actually do.
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
If there is an all-powerful all-loving God, then why do people suffer? One would think that if God could and wanted to prevent suffering, then He would - but He doesn't. One answer is that God is less than all-powerful; the extreme of this position is that God has no power at all, which is to say He might as well not exist. Another is that God is less than all-loving, or, equivalently, there is an evil god; Satan of folk Christianity and Islam is such a figure. Another was proposed by Gottfried ...more
Jimm Wetherbee
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Ehrman has written a string of highly readable and engaging books in the popular mode which present the state of current biblical scholarship, or rather critical biblical scholarship as it exists outside evangelical or traditional circles. He as done so again but with the twist that it is through the lens of what philosophers call “the problem of evil,” namely how can it be that a morally perfect and almighty being should allow evil and suffering. Ehrman has precious little patience for the nuan ...more
Mar 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Suffering is a practical problem, not an abstract one, in Ehrman's view. Every two or three seconds, someone dies from diseases due to filthy drinking water. Every five seconds, a child starves to death. Every twenty seconds, someone dies of malaria. Unfortunately, we don't often discuss these things productively, since in polite society, talking about suffering is "kind of like talking about toilet habits." (p. 14)

"Ancient Jews and Christians never questioned whether God existed," he recognizes
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
How does the Judeo-Christian Bible explain God's permission of innocent human suffering? Bart Ehrman devotes this book to two main tasks: (1) Locate and canvass answers to the question of God and human suffering and (2) Explain why Professor Ehrman finds (most of) these answers unsatisfying.

1) One interesting thing about the Judeo-Christian Bible is that, rather than give one answer to the reason for human suffering, it gives many answers. Perhaps the suffering is because the sufferer (or his co
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: atheism-religion
God's Problem by Bart D. Ehrman

God's Problem is a fantastic book of how the Bible fails to answer the question of why we suffer. Accomplished author and biblical critic, Bart D. Erhman takes us through a realistic biblical ride on the four main justifications of suffering: suffering caused by sin, suffering caused by sins committed by others, redemptive suffering, and finally suffering as a test of faith. This excellent 304 page-book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. Suffering and
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Another great analysis from Ehrman. This time, he explicates the various Biblical views of suffering:
1. The classical view typically in the OT that suffering is a punishment for sin, to teach a lesson [prophets]
2. Suffering is the result of the evils humans inflict on each other
3. Suffering is for the greater good/redemptive/atonement.
4. Suffering is a test from God to see if you will remain faithful [Job]
5. Suffering is a mystery and we peons are not to question God [Job]
6. This world is just a
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Like all of Ehrman's books, I found this one fascinating. The reason the thesis of this book is so important is that one could argue that a theological explanation for human suffering is a "deal breaker" as far as faith in God is concerned. Without a satisfactory explanation for suffering, one cannot logically maintain that God is both loving and omnipotent.

The theological underpinnings of the various explanations that seek to satisfactorily balance a loving and omnipotent God with the state of
Clif Hostetler
May 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
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 u
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: awesome, non-fiction
I believe I have given a written review to all of my 5 star rated books so I believe it would be out of place if I didn't give one here as well.

First, I have read Misquoting Jesus by Ehrman and I did like it, didn't love it, but really liked it. I do like Ehrman's writing style and his ability to keep his incredible intelligence from confusing the common dude (ie. me). I listened to a radio interview with Bart Ehrman where he was asked about this particular book and why he wrote it. He stated t
Feb 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Bart Ehrman is Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the U of North Carolina. He is a highly regarded scholar of Biblical tradition, the early church, and the development of Christianity. He freely admits that he does not believe in God. He writes clearly and engagingly, and here he examines a number of theodicies (explanations of how a benevolent and omnipotent God could allow pain, suffering, and evil in the world). He finds all of these explanations wanting, including the mutually c ...more
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“There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty.” 121 likes
“Faith is a mystery and an experience of the divine in the world, not a solution to a set of problems.” 0 likes
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