34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2009
For most of us at some time in our Christian and/or religious life, our faith will inevitably clash with reason. That crisis between the head and the heart, is a struggle that I have experienced personally and have seen many people around me struggle with. One inevitably realises that things don't always work for good as the good old Apostle and the good book says it does.
Why do bad things happen to good and innocent people if an Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omni-benevolent deity is on the throne of justice?
I have seen terrible calamities befall good innocent Christian brothers and sisters so it is a question that I have asked personally many times.
In this book, Professor Ehrman dealt with this issue admirably. He looked at all the angles, all the biblical examples and all the explanations that have been offered by various people over the years. He dealt with them one by one and offered us an excellent, lucid assessment and his very informed and well researched views and opinions.
This is a fantastic book, whatever your Christian belief or lack thereof. In the usual Ehrman style, it is well written, well thought out, and contributes substantially to knowledge.
I will recommend this book to anyone who wants to go beyond the dogmas and take a good objective look at what Christianity has to say about one of the most fundamental questions of our time.
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2009
"If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering?" This first sentence sums up the "problem of suffering" that Bart Ehrman explores in this brilliant book. For atheists, there is no theodicean problem, because there is no god, loving or otherwise. For most theists, there is also no problem, but for very different reasons. Either it is simply ignored, or it's thought to have been solved, somehow. Fortunately for theism, it's easy not to think deeply about such a nasty subject, nor to wonder what is going through God's mind when he allows earthquakes and tsunamis to kill millions. For Ehrman, the more he thought about suffering the more devout he became, and yet the more he studied scripture as a "committed Christian", the more the difficulties multiplied. For example, many Christians believe we suffer because we have free will, but these same Christians "also believe in an afterlife" during which they will presumably still have free will and yet be free from suffering.
Even if it worked, this standard explanation "plays only a very minor role in the biblical tradition." The classical view is that "people suffer because God wants them to suffer", because "they have disobeyed him and he is punishing them." Most Christians today (as a result of secular morality) are a little embarrassed when a priest declares that catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina or the AIDS epidemic are actually God's way of telling us what he thinks of the gay lifestyle. Repulsive as such views are, the Bible backs them up. "On every level, disobedience brings punishment."
The first disobedience is very familiar (although there is a good argument that it was God who did wrong, not Adam and Eve), but the punishment that flowed was disproportionate, to say the least. Pain in childbirth, having to work for a living, being filled with sin, for starters. By the time of Noah, all life on earth had to be destroyed, so wicked had we become. No wonder Abraham prefers to "do what God asks, even if it means slaughtering his own son... being faithful to God is the most important thing in life: more important than life itself." God's special creation is finally getting the message. "Whatever God commands must be done". Luckily for Isaac, God intervenes, but what about the "many people since Abraham's day who have murdered the innocent, claiming that God told them to do so"? We lock them up. And Abraham? "We call him a good and faithful servant."
The story of Job is even more telling, and chilling. "God does not explain why Job suffers. He simply asserts that he is the Almighty and, as such, cannot be questioned... The answer to suffering is that there is no answer, and we should not look for one. The problem with Job is that he expects God to deal rationally with him... but God refuses to do so." Remember what Job's suffering entailed: "not just loss of property, which is bad enough, but a ravaging of the body and the savage murder of Job's ten children." In fact, "God himself acknowledged that Job was innocent" and yet he killed his children. Why? To prove a point and to win a bet. "Possibly the most offensive part of the book of Job is at the end, when God restores all that Job had lost - including additional children." Can the pain of a child's death "be removed by the birth of another?" When Job repents, it is not of any wrongdoing: "he repents of having thought that he could make his case before the Almighty."
In ancient Israel, religion was about worshipping God properly, and "not principally a matter of correct belief". Sacrifice was all important. Then the apocalypticists invented the idea of a future resurrection and eternal life, "either in the Kingdom of God or in a kingdom of torment." They believed that God, for "mysterious reasons", had temporarily handed over control of the world "to the powers of evil", and this is why we suffer. The two most famous apocalypticists were Jesus and Paul, although Paul wasn't interested in what Jesus had done during his life. Only his death, because it brought salvation, mattered, only his suffering on the cross had redemptive value: "sin leads to punishment; Christ took the punishment upon himself; therefore, Christ's death can atone for the sins of others." Paul "thought that suffering, ultimately, was a good thing." Not Ehrman: to him, the idea that someone else's suffering is designed to help us is abhorrent. And why, if "Christ took on the suffering of the world", does the world continue to suffer?
Ehrman "eventually became an agnostic" but has paid a heavy price for his years of belief: he describes "a void deep inside" and regrets not having anyone to express his gratitude to. (Anyone who feels this way ought to read Daniel Dennett's essay "Thank Goodness", which addresses just this question.) Whatever his personal journey, Bart Ehrman has the scholarship to explore the big questions that religion claims for itself but cannot answer. He unfolds another familiar comfort blanket and finds it full of holes. Meanwhile, art, science and philosophy continue ask - and answer - more modest questions about why we suffer, and in their way have provided more real comfort than religion ever has or ever can.
75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2008
Having myself done a degree in theology and since "deconverted" (to borrow an Ehrman term!), I read some of Bart's earlier stuff whilst doing my degree, and have always rated him highly for his clarity of thought, his ability to express what he wants to get across, and his general approach to his research.
So when this new book came up on the upcoming list, I pre-ordered it, and it was delivered earlier this week. For me it was one of those books that you just can't put down, and I've devoured it already and am on the second reading at the moment.
The way he covers the topic is great - not too much information for the lay person, but also not lacking in clarity and detail for those who want it. It was almost like being back at university again, just brilliant. It is also refreshing to have him doing his own translation of the Greek for his New Testament quotations, which once again reminded me of doing exactly that at university, and once again re-emphasised for me how inaccurate the English translations are. As he mentions on one of the chapters, the pathos you get when reading the account of the passion in Mark in the original Greek is just not there in the English translation. So in summary, the coverage of the material is sufficient without being laboured.
His approach is to look at various biblical interpretations of suffering, and analyse their validity. He does this masterfully and the reader is left in no doubt at all what his opinions on the matter are and why he has come to the conclusions he has.
I can't recommend this book enough, both for those of us that have already de-converted and for those wondering about god in the light of the appalling suffering we see around us in the world.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2013
The problem with reading this kind of book is that you need to know your Bible and I don't so it's difficult to get a proper perspective on B.E's point of view . The Bible has been studied by theologians throughout history , it has been translated and probably corrupted for political purposes , I think you could interpret its messages anyway you wanted . But this is a book about suffering and why we suffer and who's to blame . If there is a God why doesn't he intervene like he used to . An enjoyable book but i'm still none the wiser . In my point of view we are not looked over by a compassionate God , which is the view shared by the author , the only way we can reduce suffering is in our hands , good politics , a better understanding of and advancement in medicine and good economics and of course compassion for our fellow man , Religion has too many opposing and contradicting views .The concluding pages of this book are what makes it , very life affirming a good philosophy for all .
Bart does tend to rehash the same stuff - well, similar stuff - in most of his books these days but I still enjoy them immensely.
Here, he is writing from a far more subjective viewpoint than he usually does and it's fascinating to see the traumatizing effect that learning had on him and the way he's dealt with it.
One of Professor Ehrman's deep-seted problems is that, having quite properly debunked the alleged provenance of Christianity, there seems to be a God-shaped hole in his life into which nothing but a monotheistic puzzle piece could possibly fit, and he doesn't seem able to step outside of the box and see that he is still hanging on to his prejudices about what religion "is." There is no need for that missing piece's outline to be so clearly defined, but having dealt with the problem of God's being, he seems unable to look any further and he's fallen into the common trap of seeing the world in terms of (packaged Monotheistic God) and its opposite, (specific opposite of packaged Monotheistic God) and as this dualist view is still essentially monotheistic, he's scuppered. I'm sure many would actually see him as a satanist as he is specifically a denier of their specific and comfortable model of God but again, that betrays very narrow thinking.
It's not his fault but in spite of his great scholarship and forensic dismantling of his belief system, he still seems only aware of, and indeed interested by, that narrow set of arguments specific to his prejudices.
That aside, it's a great book even if largely a regurgitation of the same smorgasbord that's in his head.
I would love to see him have some sort of epiphany and let go of the baggage and then write from a more enlightened standpoint. I think that with his expositional skills and sound scholarship, it could be world-changing.