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.
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.
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 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, .
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, .
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, .
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
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
Presentations: The problem of evil. Moral, metaphysical and natural evil. God the Creator's responsibility. Challenge to theodicy.
4. September 27th and 29th
Presentations: The reality of suffering. Pain and suffering; suffering and ambiguity; maturation and masochism. Challenge to Christology.
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
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.
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.
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.
Presentations: Is God affected by the world? Immutability; divine suffering; divine repentance.
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
12. November 21-25 (Thanksgiving Break)
13. November 29th and December 1st
Presentations: Do prayers have an effect on God? Petition, intercession, agency issues.
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.
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,
Fretheim (BH 106) Tuesday,
IC2633 God, Evil and Suffering: A Selective Bibliography
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Benjamin, Jessica. Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (Pantheon, 1988).
Birnbaum, David. God and Evil (KTAV, 1989).
Bloomquist, Karen L. and Stumme, John R., eds. The Promise of Lutheran Ethics (Fortress, 1998).
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