Upcoming Book Group Discussion: God's Problem

Our friend, G, had the great idea to start an X2 book discussion.  We’ll be doing 2 books: the first (this one) by a Christian who became an atheist, the second is about an atheist who became a Christian.

So, read God’s Problem by July 9th and prepare for a lively discussion and more info on the next book.  Thanks, G!

Anyone up for a group discussion of Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem?

Bart Ehrman was raised a devout Christian, spending an extensive college career devoted to the Bible and training to become a minister. After serving for some time in various churches he found himself becoming more and more conflicted about how the Bible (and the Christian tradition) tries to explain why people suffer.

In God’s Problem, Ehrman delineates the contradictory explanations put forth by the Bible, contradictions which he eventually could no longer reconcile, leading him to leave Christianity; “I finally… came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic; I don’t ‘know’ if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world.” (pg 4)

The idea that there was an all powerful AND all loving God could no longer held any credibility for him in the face of “young children kidnapped, raped and murdered… millions starving, suffering horrible and excruciating lives that lead to horrible and excruciating deaths… [and] sadistic tyrants savagely [attacking] and [destroying] entire villages, towns, and even countries…” (pg5). He asks the poignant question: “If God is at work… feeding the hungry with miraculous multiplication of loaves, why is it that one child- a mere child!- dies every five seconds of hunger? Every five seconds.” (pg 6)

In this book Ehrman addresses and compares the major explanations put forth by the Bible, including:

-suffering as a punishment for sin
-suffering as a test of faith
-suffering as beyond comprehension since we cannot understand God
-suffering as just the nature of things and needing to be accepted
and, of course…
-don’t worry, God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world.

Ehrman’s conclusion is that,if there is a God, he could be either all powerful but doesn’t care, or all loving but unable to help; however, in the face of all historic evidence, he cannot possibly be both. And if, on the other hand, he is too mysterious for us to understand, than it is impossible to make any statements about either his omnipotence or his loving nature.

God’s Problem is a defense of that thesis.
(Go here to read an excerpt from God’s Problem, or to listen to the NPR interview with Bart Ehrman.)

I realize many of you out there will want to tackle these (blasphemous?) charges right here and now, but please resit the temptation to do that. We will be discussing this book on July 9th, and I would LOVE to hear your responses to Ehrman’s claims, and your own thoughts on how you answer the problem of why people suffer at that time.

Now for those of you really disturbed that we are reading a book by a Christian who lost his faith, hang tight. Next month, we will read the spiritual memoir of an atheist who became Christian and has devoted her life to Christ’s work of feeding the hungry.

EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.


  1. The way you describe Ehrman’s journey sounds similar to the journey of others I know. When they rejected certain theological claims about God, they ended up doubting belief in God’s existence. This can be the result of a tremendous amount of consideration and care and sincere questing, and we shouldn’t belittle them their decision. But it still seems to me like it does not logically follow. Coming to learn that certain claims about God are untrue should lead a person to change how they conceptualize God. But it doesn’t logically follow that God doesn’t exist. It does mean that the God you believed in, as that God was decribed, doesn’t exist, but it does not mean there is no God.

  2. and, oh yeah… I reserved my copy at the library about three months ago… and I am still about 29 holds away from getting it.

    I finally just bought the sucker!

    so, good luck!

  3. hey mike…

    yes, and Bart does describe himself as more of an agnostic than an atheist (i.e. “I don’t ‘know’ if there is a god…”)

    I can’t find the quote… but I thought I heard him refer to agnostics as atheists without guts. (or something like that.) A sort of self depreciating humorous reference to his holding out hope in some sort of divine?

  4. hmmm… do I spoil the surprise?

    well, okay. so you can order them together.

    The other book is Take This Bread by Sara Miles.

    happy ordering!

  5. Very interesting, G. I heard this guy interviewed on NPR, and it sounds like it will be a fascinating book. I’m excited to read it!

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