IC2633  Interpreting and Confessing for the World: God, Evil and Suffering

Instructors: T. Fretheim, P. Sponheim

Fall Semester, 2005-06



I.    Course Description:

An examination of ways in which the Bible and the Christian tradition consider evil and suffering and how such consideration informs the task of interpreting and confessing the Gospel in the contemporary world.  Special attention is given to implications for pastoral reflection and practice.



II.  Objectives:

1.   Increase self-awareness regarding the issues of evil and suffering.

2.   Increase appreciation for the way in which various persons have reflected on their experience of these realities.

3.   Become more aware of differing ways in which interpretation and confession interact with particular contexts in view.

4.   Acquire a knowledge of the biblical texts, hermeneutical issues, and theological perspectives associated with evil and suffering.

5.   Analyze the various theological approaches taken to evil and suffering and assess their claims to truth, fidelity and efficacy.

6.   Learn better how to use the resources of the biblical, confessional, and systematic traditions with respect to these issues for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care.



III. Books Required:

1.   Elie Wiesel, Night, 1960

2.   Douglas John Hall, God and Human Suffering, 1986.

3.   Marjorie Suchocki, In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer, 1996.

4.   Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God, 1984.

  1. Paul Sponheim, The Pulse of Creation, 1999.
  2. Stanley Hauerwas, God, Medicine, and Suffering, 1990.

7.   J. Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, 1994.



IV. Books Recommended:

See attached bibliography.



V.  Course Procedures:

The two class hours on Tuesday (3rd-4th hours) will be devoted to presentations by the instructors; one hour on Thursday (2nd, 3rd, or 4th hour) will be given to preceptorial instructor-led discussion of issues raised by the readings and class presentations.  Normally, the two presentations for the week will be devoted to one topic, addressed from an Old Testament and a systematics perspective.



VI. Course Requirements:

1.   Weekly Reading for Preceptorials, specified in the course schedule below.  One page of writing is required for four preceptorials of your choice.  These are to be handed in to the instructor whose discipline is most closely addressed in the paper by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday (the day before the precept meets).  These may take the form of the formulation of a question raised by the reading, and some reflection on it, or a statement of some insight received from the reading, with reflection on its importance for your own theological perspective as it relates to ministry situations in which the problem of evil and suffering is present.  It is expected that all students will be present and will have read assignments for each week so that the precepts may be used to the best advantage of all.

2.   An Integrative Paper.  A pastoral-theological issue in connection with which the understanding of God in relationship to evil and suffering is especially important.  Some possible issues: a child dies of cancer; a murder; a family is killed in an automobile accident; an earthquake or other natural disaster devastates a community; a suicide; prayers for healing; a child is born with Down's syndrome; the holocaust.  

      It is expected that the textbooks of the course will be used in the preparation of the 2nd and 3rd segments of the integrative paper. Other resources may, of course, be used.

This paper is to be submitted in three parts, according to the following schedule and pages.

These three parts address the issues as described in the catalog description for this course area: The concern is (1) to address a challenge/issue encountered in pastoral practice, (2) in connection with which students learn to gather scriptural, confessional, and theological resources and assess their claims to fidelity, truth and efficacy, and (3) to attend explicitly to the activities of interpreting and confessing the 'story' of God's presence and mission as befits the specific situation.


(1)   Due Thursday, Sept. 22nd, 5:00pm.


A three-page statement in which the pastoral situation relating to an experience of evil/suffering is identified and briefly described.  Draw together the questions and cries of pain (of yourself and others) that surface in such a time.  What are the God questions that arise in connection with this issue?  What are the challenges to the faith/tradition presented by the situation?


(2)   Due Thursday, Nov. 17th, 5:00pm.


A five-page statement in which you frame the theological issues that would enable you to address these questions and for which you determine the scriptural, confessional, and theological resources that would be most helpful in addressing them.  What can you say of God that would be beneficial?


(3)  Due Wednesday, Dec. 14th, 5:00pm.


A three-page statement in which you develop interpreting and confessing strategies for conversing with a person in the midst of such an experience.  What sort of pastoral conversation would you develop?



VII.  Course Schedule.


1.      September 6th and 8th

Presentations: What is our topic?  What is at stake in this issue?  What are some of the challenges presented to the faith/tradition?

            Read:   Wiesel, entirety

                        Fretheim, 1-33

                        Sponheim, 1-17

                        Walking with God in a Fragile World, pp. 3-21 (articles by Buechner & Coffin)


2.      September 13th and 15th

Presentations: How do we come to know God -- and so the kind of God God is? 
Revelation issues; theophany; faith and history; word of God; nature of metaphor

            Read:   Fretheim, 79-106

Hall, 13-30  

Polkinghorne, 1-35


3.   September 20th and 22nd  

Presentations: The problem of evil.  Moral, metaphysical and natural evil.  God the Creator's responsibility.  Challenge to theodicy.

Read:   Sponheim, 18-41
                  Hauerwas, 1-38

                        Polkinghorne, 36-50


4.      September 27th and 29th   

Presentations: The reality of suffering.  Pain and suffering; suffering and ambiguity; maturation and masochism.  Challenge to Christology.

            Read:  Hall, 31-92

5.       October 4th and 6th

Presentations: The book of Job and issues of suffering.  Does Job serve God for nothing? The nature of the book. Interpretations of the God speeches and the responses of Job (chaps. 38-42). Justice and mercy.

Read:   J.G. Janzen, Job, pp. 1-24, 225-230
Sponheim, 42-65
Fretheim, 34-71


6.      October 11th and 13th

Presentations: Where in the world is God?  The God/world relationship; formal concerns.
Issues of omnipresence; divine temporality; immanence/transcendence.

            Read:  Hauerwas, 39-95
                       Suchocki, 15-30


7.      October 20th (October 18th  = Reading Day)

An opportunity to review the class up to this point, with possible mid-course corrections.


8.   October 25th and 27th

Presentation: What is the nature of the will of God for the world?  Word of God and will of God.  Distinctions within the will of God.  Freedom and commitment.  Will and desire.

Read:  Sponheim, 66-87
                 Hauerwas, 97-151


9.      November 1st and 3rd  

Presentation: How does God go about doing what is to be done?  Divine agency; power of God; miracles; the unity of God's work.

Read:  Fretheim, 71-78
           Hall, 93-121.

           Polkinghorne, 79-89


10. November 8th and 10th

Presentations: Is God affected by the world?  Immutability; divine suffering; divine repentance.

            Read:  Fretheim, 107-148
                       Suchocki, 31-41


11.  November 15th and 17th  

Presentations: Human responsibility and divine dependence. The creator’s dependence on the creature. Human vocation and Christian obedience. Divine concurrence.

      Read:  Sponheim, 88-113

                 Hall, 123-147

                       Polkinghorne, 51-61


12.    November 21-25 (Thanksgiving Break)


13.  November 29th and December 1st    

Presentations: Do prayers have an effect on God?  Petition, intercession, agency issues.

            Read:  Polkinghorne, 62-78 
                       Suchocki, 1-14, 43-127


14. December 6th and 8th

Presentations:  Where is God headed with the world?  God and the Final Future.  Eschatology; mission.

Read:   Polkinghorne, 90-100


15. December 13th

To be announced.       



VIII.    Miscellaneous

1. Grading.  For those who desire a letter grade in the course, notify one of the instructors by the end of the second week of the quarter.  Weight given to assignments:

            to the three parts of the major assignment (20-30-20%)

            to the precept participation, written and oral. (30%)

2.  Independent Study.  For those who wish to take a more independent track through the course, see one of the instructors within the first week of the quarter.

3. Office Hours  (or by appointment)

      Sponheim (BH 119)     Tuesday, 3:00-4:00 p.m.

                                          Thursday, 4:00-5:00 p.m.


      Fretheim (BH 106) Tuesday, 3:00-4:00 p.m.

Thursday, 3:00-4:00 p.m.


IC2633      God, Evil and Suffering: A Selective Bibliography



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Altizer, Thomas J.J. The Self Embodiment of God (Harper, 1977).

Armstrong, Karen et al. The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000).

Baldwin, James. Another Country (Dell, 1962).

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Barrow, John and Frank Tipler. The Cosmological Anthropic Principel (Oxford, 1984).

Beker, J. Suffering and Hope: The Biblical Vision and the Human Predicament (Philadelphia, 1987).

Benjamin, Jessica. Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (Pantheon, 1988).

Birnbaum, David. God and Evil (KTAV, 1989).

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Gunton, Colin. The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 2nd ed. (T & T Clark, 1997).

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Hampson, Daphne.  Theology and Feminism (Blackwell, 1991).

Hampson, Daphne. Swallowing a Fishbone? (SPCK, 1996).

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Heyward, Carter.  The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relation (University, 1982).

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Hick, John.  Evil and the God of Love (Collins, 1977).

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Hodgson, Peter.  Winds of the Spirit: A Constructive Christian Theology (Westminster/John Knox, 1994).

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Jungel, Eberhard.  God as the Mystery of the World (Eerdmans, 1983).

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Keller, Catherine.  From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism, and the Self (Beacon, 1986).

Kenny, Anthony.  The God of the Philosophers (Clarendon, 1979).

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Kung, Hans.  Does God Exist? (Doubleday, 1980).

Kushner, Harold.  When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Schocken, 1981).

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Langford, James and Rouner, Leroy. Walking With God in a Fragile World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

Leaman, Oliver. Evil and Suffering in Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge, 1995).

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McFague, Sallie.  Models of God (Fortress, 1987).

McGill, Arthur.  Suffering: A Test of Theological Method (Westminster, 1982).

McWilliams, Warren.  The Passion of God (Mercer, 1985).

Marty, Martin.   A Cry of Absence (Harper, 1983).

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Miles, M.  Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Christian West (Beacon, 1987).

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Moltmann, Jurgen.  The Crucified God (Harper, 1974).

Moltmann, Jurgen.  God in Creation (SCM, 1985).

Moskop, John.  Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom (Mercer, 1984).

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Padgett, Alan. God, Eternity and the Nature of Time (Macmillan, 1992).

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Simundson, D.  here is God in My Suffering? (Minneapolis, 1983).

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Suchocki, Marjorie.  The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology (Continuum, 1994).

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Tamez, Elsa. The Amnesty of Grace (Abingdon, 1993).

Tanner, Kathryn.  God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Blackwell, 1988).

Taylor, Mark C.  Nots (University of Chicago, 1993).

Taylor, Mark Kline.  Remembering Esperanza (Orbis, 1990).

Thomsen, Mark W.  Christ Crucified: A 21st Century Missiology of the Cross (Lutheran University, 2004).

Tilley, Terrence. The Evils of Theodicy (Wipf & Stock, 2000).

Tippler, Frank.  The Physics of Immortality (Doubleday, 1994).

Torrance, Thomas.  Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford, 1981).

Towner, S. How God Deals with Evil (Philadelphia, 1976).

Turner, Denys. The Darkness of God (Cambridge, 1995).

Vanhoozer, Kevin. Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Essays on the Love of God (Eerdmans, 2001).

Ward, Keith.  Divine Action (Collins, 1990).

Ward, Keith.  God, Chance, and Necessity (One World, 1996).

Ward, Keith.  God, Faith and the New Millennium (One World, 1998).

Ward, Keith.  Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (Blackwell, 1982).

Weatherhead, Leslie.  The Will of God (Abingdon, 1944, 1972).

Webb, Stephen.  The Gifting of God (Oxford, 1996).

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (Harper, 1951).

Weinandy, Thomas.  Does God Suffer?  (Notre Dame, 2001).

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