Sunday, September 7, 2008

Book Review: God's Problem by Bart Ehrman

TitleGod's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer
AuthorBart D. Ehrman
Tagschristianity, suffering, religious belief, agnosticism

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.
PublicationHarperOne (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0061173975 / 9780061173974

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