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

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

Book Description

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,” “answers” that often contradict each other. 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 different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; and suffering is beyond comprehension, since we are just human beings and God, after all, is God
  • Ecclesiastes: suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it
  • All apocalyptic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world

For Ehrman, the question of why there is so much suffering in the world is more than a haunting thought. Ehrman’s inability to reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of real life led the former pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church to reject Christianity.

In God’s Problem, Ehrman discusses his personal anguish upon discovering the Bible’s contradictory explanations for suffering and invites all people of faith–or no faith–to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world and each of us.

“My ultimate goal in this book is to examine the biblical responses to suffering, to see what they are, to assess how they might be useful for thinking people trying to get a handle on the reality of suffering either in their own lives or in the lives of others, and to evaluate their adequacy in light of the realities of our world. What comes as a surprise to many readers of the Bible is that some of these answers are not what they would expect, and some of the answers stand at odds with one another.” – Bart Ehrman


Preface ix

1. Suffering and a Crisis of Faith 1

2. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
The Classical View of Suffering 21

3. More Sin and More Wrath:
The Dominance of the Classical View of Suffering 57

4. The Consequences of Sin 91

5. The Mystery of the Greater Good:
Redemptive Suffering 125

6. Does Suffering Make Sense?
The Books of Job and Ecclesiates 159

7. God Has the Last Word:
Jewish-Christian Apocalypticism 197

8. More Apocalyptic Views:
God’s Ultimate Triumph over Evil 229

9. Suffering: The Conclusion 261

Notes 279

Index 285

Scripture Index 291


“No one has so eloquently told the history of the biblical God’s absences and traditional excuses as Ehrman.”

– Willis Barnstone, author of The Other Bible

“Ehrman’s clarity, simplicity, and congeniality help make this a superb introduction to its subject.”


“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

“Ehrman … addresses one of the most compelling issues in all of human experience, and he has done so with clarity and insight. You may be surprised, you may be troubled, but you will certainly be challenged and moved by this book.”

– Marvin Meyer, author of Judas

God’s Problem is a wonderful book, powerful in its questions and bold in its answers. Believers will be met on their own terms and drawn into important questions; doubters will enjoy a smart and friendly tour of some key ideas, from the enlightening perspective of an author who long believed.”

– Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth

“This serious book by a serious scholar will be talked about and cannot be ignored by any collection. Ehrman … is a New York Times best-selling author and a familiar media figure in the scholarly discussion of the New Testament. Here, he turns from his usual historical-critical concerns to theological consideration of the problem of suffering: namely, if God is all-powerful and all-loving, how can suffering exist? Ehrman writes in a clear and engaging style, bringing personal reflection and reason to bear on academically sound readings of biblical perspectives on suffering, from both the Old and the New Testament. Ultimately, the book is a very personal statement that will anger some and resonate with others; most important, it will provoke mature consideration of this very important question. For all libraries.”

– Darby Orcutt, Library Journal

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