In God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer, Bart D. Ehrman examines the “problem of suffering.”
This is hardly a new topic. The question “If God is good why does he permit suffering [and evil]?” has been debated since the time of the Ancient Greeks, if not before.
What makes Ehrman’s approach so absorbing is how he weaves the differing views of suffering found in the Bible itself into his search for his answer to that question.
To give just one example: he devotes one chapter — Does Suffering Make Sense? — to comparing the “nature of suffering” as expressed in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.
We learn that the book of Job was written by at least two different authors— whose views of suffering are contradictory. “The story begins and ends,” Ehrman writes, “with the prose narrative of the righteous suffering of Job, whose patient endurance under duress is rewarded by God, [which] stands at odds with the poetic dialogues that take up most of the book, in which Job is not patient but defiant, and in which God does not reward the one he has made to suffer but overpowers him and grinds him into submission.”
Ecclesiastes, in contrast, is “contrary to the traditional views of a book like Proverbs, which insists that life is basically meaningful and good, that evil is punished and right behavior rewarded. Not so for the author of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself the Teacher (Hebrew: Qoheleth). On the contrary, life is often meaningless, and in the end, all of us — wise and foolish, righteous and wicked, rich and poor — all of us die. And that’s the end of the story.”
These two short extracts merely hint at the depth of analysis Ehrman brings to his work. He concludes, much as the Greek philosopher Epicurus did some 2,500 years ago:
God knows all things and can do all things. That’s why he is God. To say that he can’t cure cancer, or eliminate birth defects, or control hurricanes, or prevent a nuclear holocaust is to say that he’s not really God—at least not the God of the Bible and of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Believing in a God who stands beside me in my suffering, but who cannot actually do much about it, makes God a lot like my mother or my kindly nextdoor neighbor, but it doesn’t make him a lot like GOD.