The titular issue in Bart Ehrman's book God's Problem (HarperOne; 304 pages) haunts him. Once a Baptist pastor, Ehrman recounts how trying to unravel the ferocious conundrum--of a kind, all-powerful deity who also allows suffering--undid his faith. Since then, as a religion professor and best-selling author (2005's Misquoting Jesus), he has knowledgeably subverted his old beliefs. Here his biblical expertise is a help and a hindrance, since his conceit is to examine only explanations of suffering that appear in Scripture. As Ehrman takes issue with pain--portrayed as punishment for sin (in Genesis et al.), as a consequence of others' sin (in the Psalms), as a redemptive act (the Gospels) or as an unknowable part of Providence (Job)--Scripture does come to seem inconsistent and insufficient.
Ehrman's problem, however, is that although the Bible sets out to do a lot of things, tweezing out a systemic argument on suffering isn't one of them. Those who attempted that came later (posing it, for instance, as a consequence of the gift of free will), and Ehrman engages them only slantingly. Were he to confront their ideas in earnest, he would present his disbelief with a stiffer challenge and readers with a more useful book.