(also posted on my blog: davenichols.net
Bart Ehrman is one of the most thoughtful and prolific Biblical scholars of the modern age. A former Christian turned skeptic and agnostic, Ehrman's years of study and teaching have gained him a unique view from which to analyze many assertions and controversies surrounding the roots of Christianity and the Bible. God's Problem takes an in-depth look at the central concept of suffering, looking closely at what various Biblical prophets and stories have to say on the subject.
Ehrman jumps into his argument that the Bible is inconsistent in how it presents suffering, and it is clear from reading various scriptures that the authors of the Bible had major disagreements on just why humans suffer. From basic reasons, such as punishment for sin, to the more extrapolated views that suffering is ultimately redemptive, Ehrman uses easy-to-follow logic to surmise that all of the reasons given in the Bible are ultimately and utterly unsatisfying and cannot possibly provide reasonable answers to the questions of suffering.
The entire book is a strong argument in favor of agnosticism toward the Judeo-Christian version of God, and to me, the strongest part of the work is the discussion of the Book of Job. Ehrman maintains that this book, where Job is an innocent tested by God (after being challenged by Satan), was written by at least two different authors with widely diverging views on why Job suffered and how he should handle himself (meek and humble versus angry and defiant). The ironic part of the story is that God himself was apparently incapable of being tempted by Satan to harm Job (Satan, here one of God's inner circle of advisors, talks God into letting Satan kill Job's children and otherwise perform evil on Job in order to prove to God that Job would denounce his Lord. God gives in, which begs the question of why God would allow Satan to talk him into allowing the murdering of Job's children to prove a point. If God cannot resist Satan, what chance do mortals have?).
The latter parts of the book take on the apocalyptic pronouncements that came later in the development of Christianity, including those attributed to Jesus, proffering the idea of an afterlife that was clearly absent through most of the Bible.
Ehrman is a master of his craft, and I doubt there are many in the World who have as firm a grasp of the subject. God's Problem is a focused and deeply introspective look at the concept of suffering and the Biblical discussions about why we suffer. This is a must-read for anyone who thinks about this issue, regardless of religion or irreligion. Four and one-half stars.