God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer Paperback – 15 Mar 2009
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“Ehrman’s clarity, simplicity, and congeniality help make this a superb introduction to its subject.” (Booklist)
“Ehrman, a prolific and popular author, has put his journey into words in a new book “God’s Problem. ...Ehrman actually ends “God’s Problem” on an upbeat note, a kind of call to arms for people to be good--to themselves and to others...” (San Diego Tribune)
“[An] entrapped invocation of a God who is not believed in, but is nonetheless despised, is what gives the book a rough power. …[Ehrman] is a lucid expositor…” (The New Yorker)
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.
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Throughout, Ehrman - who's written extensively on Biblical criticism - offers both personal conjecture (relating to his shift from being a devout Christian to becoming an agnostic) and a series of real-world examples of intense suffering, and in so doing presents an engaging discussion. This book is intended for popular readership, rather than representing an in-depth scholarly treatise on the subject. And I recommend this item to anyone fascinated by how the problem of suffering raises doubt as regards the existence of God.
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.
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.
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