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

Instructors: T. Fretheim, A. Padgett

Fall Semester, 2008-09



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, Fortress, 1986.

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

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

  1. Paul Sponheim, Speaking of God: Relational Theology, Chalice, 2006.
  2. Stephen T. Davis, ed., Encountering Evil, Westminster John Knox (new ed., 2001).

7.   J. Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity (rev. ed.), Crossroad, 2006.

Required Readings on Reserve:  The books are on two hour reserve in the library; the required chapters from these books are on e-reserve through MyLutherNet only.

1.  J. Langford & L. Rouner, eds, Walking with God in a Fragile World, 3-21.

2.  Stanley Hauerwas, God, Medicine, and Suffering, 39-58, 84-95.



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.  At least one is due every month.  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.  Two short answer essays.  Select two short essay questions from the list given in MyLutherNet.  Answer them in your own voice as a theologian.  You will write these in lieu of a midterm.  A short answer is no more than 300 words.  Please bring these with you in print form to your precepts as assigned in the schedule below.

3.   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; or a major disaster of any kind.  

      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. 18th, 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. 20th, bring to precept.


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?  Turn this in with the graded & marked-up Part One.


(3)  Due Wednesday, Dec. 17th, 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?  Turn this in with the graded & marked-up Parts One and Two.



VII.  Course Schedule.


1.      September 9th and 11th

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

            Read:   Wiesel, entirety

                        Fretheim, 1-33

                        Sponheim, 1-11

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


2.      September 16th and 18th

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

                        Read:               Fretheim, 79-106

Hall, 13-30  

Polkinghorne, 9-48


3.   September 23th and 25th

Presentations: The problem of evil.  Moral and natural evil.  God the Creator's responsibility and human responsibility.  The challenge to and task of theodicy.

Read:   Sponheim, 101-122
                  Davis, vii-xii and 181-198 (Cobb).

                        Polkinghorne, 49-64


4.      September 30 and October 2nd

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

                        Read:               Hall, 31-92

                                                            Davis, 145-180 (Phillips).

5.       October 7th and 9th

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.  Job and the New Testament.

Read:   J.G. Janzen, Job, pp. 1-24, 225-230
Fretheim, 34-71
Davis, 1-37 (Roth).


6.      October 14th and 16th

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

                        Read:               Hauerwas (e-reserve)
                                                            Suchocki, 15-30
                                                            Sponheim, 13-35


7.      October 23rd  (October 21st  = Reading Day)

Take home short answer essays.  Return your printed answers to your preceptorials this week.


8.      October 28th and 30th

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.  The challenge to traditional theology.

Read:   Sponheim, 37-58
                                                      Davis, 38-72 (Hick)

9.      November 4th and 6th

Presentation: How does God go about doing what is to be done?  Divine action in the world; power of God; miracles; the unity of God's work.  The challenge to Providence.

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

                                    Polkinghorne, 97-107
                                    Sponheim, 59-79


10. November 11th and 13th

Presentations: Is God affected by the world?  Does God need the world?  Immutability; divine suffering; divine repentance.  The challenge to classical theism.

            Read:   Fretheim, 107-148
                        Suchocki, 31-41
                        Davis, 108-144.


11. November 18th and 20th  

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

      Read:   Hall, 123-147

                        Polkinghorne, 65-78

                        Davis, 73-107


12. November 24-28 (Thanksgiving Break)


13.  December 2th and 4th

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

                        Read:     Polkinghorne, 79-96 
Suchocki, 1-14, 43-127
                                          Sponheim, 83-100


14. December 9th and 11th

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

Read:   Polkinghorne, 108-118
            Davis, 191-203 (Adams).


15. December 16th

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 term.  Weight given to assignments:

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

            to the precept participation, written and oral (including short answers) (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)

Padgett (BH 27)         By appointment only.  Please call 651-641-3221
or email apadgett@luthersem.edu.


Fretheim (BH 106)      Tuesdays, 3:00-4:00 p.m.,
or by appointment or email: tfrethei@luthersem.edu.



IC2633      God, Evil and Suffering: A Selective Bibliography



Adams, R. and M. M., eds.  The Problem of Evil (Oxford, 1991).

Adams, Marilyn M.  Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Cambridge, 2000)

Adams, Marilyn M.  Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Cambridge, 2006).

Allen, Diogenes. Traces of God in a Frequently Hostile World (Cowley, 1981).

Balentine, S. The Hidden God: The Hiding of the Face of God in the Old Testament (Oxford, 1983).

Balentine, S. Prayer in the Hebrew Bible: The Drama of Divine-Human Dialogue (Augsburg, 1994).

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).

Blumenthal, D. Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Westminster/John Knox, 1993).

Boyd, G. Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (InterVarsity, 2001).

Bringle, Mary Louise. Despair: Sickness or Sin? (Abingdon, 1990).

Brown, Alexandra. The Cross and Human Transformation (Fortress, 1995).

Brueggemann, W. Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme, and Text (Fortress, 1992).

Brueggemann, W. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Fortress, 1997).

Cahn, S. & Shatz, D, eds. Questions about God: Today’s Philosophers Ponder the Divine (Oxford, 2002).

Case-Winters, Anna. God's Power (Westminster, 1990).

Cobb, John B. and Pinnock, Clark H., eds. Searching for an Adequate God:  A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists (Eerdmans, 2000).

Cohen, Arthur. The Tremendum: A Theological Interpretation of the Holocaust (Crossroad, 1981).

Cohn-Sherbok, Dan.  Holocaust Theology (Lamp Press, 1989).

Collins, John. Does the Bible Justify Violence? (Fortress, 2004).

Cowburn, J. Shadows and the Dark: The Problem of Suffering and Evil (London, 1979).

Craig, William Lane. Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Crossway, 2001).

Crenshaw, J. Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil (Oxford, 2005).

Crenshaw, J. (ed.) Theodicy in the Old Testament (Fortress, 1983).

Crenshaw, J.  A Whirlpool of Torment: Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence (Fortress, 1984).

Davaney, Sheila.  Divine Power (Fortress, 1986).

Davidson, R. The Courage to Doubt: Exploring an Old Testament Theme (London, 1983).

Davis, Stephen.  Logic and the Nature of God (Eerdmans, 1983).

Davis, S.T. (ed.) Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy 2nd ed. (Louisville, 2001).

Day, Peggy. An Adversary in Heaven: Satan in the Hebrew Bible (Scholars, 1988).

Dell, Katharine. Shaking a Fist at God: Struggling with the Mystery of Undeserved Suffering (Triumph, 1997).

Ditmanson, Harold.  Grace in Experience and Theology (Augsburg, 1977).

Ehrmann, Bart D.  God’s Problem:  How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (HarperOne, 2008).

Fackenheim, E. God's Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (New York, 1970).

Farley, Edward.  Good and Evil (Fortress, 1990).

Farley, Wendy.  Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion (Westminster/J. Knox, 1990).

Feinberg, John.  The Many Faces of Evil, 3rd ed (Crossway, 2004)

Fiddes, Paul.  The Creative Suffering of God (Oxford, 1988).

Fretheim, T. and Thompson, C. God, Evil and Suffering: Essays in Honor of Paul R. Sponheim (Word & World, 2000).

Gannssle, Gregory E. and Woodruff, David M, eds. God and Time: Four Views (InterVarsity, 2001) 

Garrison, Roman. Why are you Silent, Lord? (Sheffield, 2000).

Gerstenberger, Erhard. Yahweh the Patriarch: Ancient Images of God and Feminist Theology (Fortress, 1996).

Gilkey, Langdon.  Reaping the Whirlwind (Seabury, 1976).

Grey, Mary. Introducing Feminist Images of God. (Sheffield, 2001).

Griffin, David.  God, Power and Evil (Westminster, 1976).

Griffin, David.  Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations (Albany, 1991).

Gruning, Herb. How In the World Does God Act? (University, 2000).

Gutierrez, G. On Job- God-Talk and The Suffering of the Innocent (Mary Knoll, 1987).

Harbaugh, Gary. Act of God; Active God (Fortress, 2001).

Hasker, William.  God, Time and Knowledge (Cornell, 1989).

Hebblethwaite, Brian. Evil, Suffering and Religion, rev. ed. (SPCK, 2000).

Heschel, A. The Prophets, 2 vols. (New York, 1962).

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

Howard-Snyder, D., ed., The Evidential Argument from Evil (Indiana UP, 1996)

Humphries, W. The Tragic Vision and the Hebrew Tradition (Fortress, 1985).

Inbody, T.L.  The Transforming God: An Interpretation of Suffering and Evil (Westeminster/John Knox, 1997).

Jenson, Robert.  The Triune Identity (Fortress, 1982).

Johnson, Elizabeth.  She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (Crossroad, 1992).

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

Kitamori, K. Theology of the Pain of God (Richmond, 1968).

Kraemer, David. Responses to Suffering in Classical Rabbinic Literature (Oxford, 1995).

Laato, A. & J.C. de Moor.  Theodicy in the World of the Bible  (Brill, 2003).

Lambrecht, Jan & Raymond Collins (eds.) God and Human Suffering (Louvain, 1990).

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

Lester, Andrew D. (ed.) When Children Suffer: A Sourcebook for Ministry with Children in Crisis (Westminster, 1987).

Levenson, J. Creation and the Persistence of Evil (Harper & Row, 1988).

Lewis, C.S.  A Grief Observed (Seabury, 1964).

Lewis, C.S.  The Problem of Pain (Macmillan, 1962).

Lindstrom, F.  God and the Origin of Evil (Lund, 1983).

Lindstrom, F.  Suffering and Sin: Interpretations of Illness in the Individual Complaint Psalms (Stockholm, 1994).

Marcus, Joel. Jesus and the Holocaust: Reflections on Suffering and Hope (Doubleday, 1997)

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

Miller, P.  Sin and Judgment in the Prophets (Chico, 1982).

Miller, P.  They Cried to the Lord (Fortress, 1994).

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

Mosley, J.K. The Impassibility of God (Cambridge, 1976).

Neiman, Susan. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton, 2002).

Nemo, Philippe. Job and the Excess of Evil (Duquesne, 1998).

Newsom, Carol A. The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imagination (Oxford: University Press, 2003).

Ngien, Dennis. The Suffering of God According the Martin Luther’s “Theologia Crucis(Peter Lang, 1995).

Noddings, Nel. Women and Evil (California Press, 1989).

Owen, H.P. Concepts of Deity (Herder, 1971).

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

Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan (Oxford, 1995).

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Pinnock, Clark. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Baker, 2001).

Pinnock, Clark, et al. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (InterVarsity, 1994).

Placher, William. Narratives of a Vulnerable God (Westminster/J. Knox, 1994).

Plantinga, Alvin.  God, Freedom and Evil (Eerdmans, 1977).

Polkinghorne, John and Welker, Michael eds. The End of the World and the Ends of God: Science and Theology on Eschatology
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Polkinghorne, John ed.  Work of Love; Creation as Kenosis (Eerdmans, 2001).

Prestige, G.L. God in Patristic Thought (SPCK, 1952).

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Ricoeur, Paul. The Symbolism of Evil (Beacon, 1967).

Robinson, H.W. The Cross in the Old Testament (London, 1955).

Robinson, H.W. Suffering Human and Divine (New York, 1939).

Rowe, William L., ed.  God and the Problem of Evil (Blackwell, 2001)

Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (IVP, 2007).

Sands, Kathleen M. Escape from Paradise: Evil and Tragedy in Feminist Theology (Fortress, 1994).

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Simundson, D. Faith Under Fire: Biblical Interpretations of Suffering (Minneapolis, 1980).

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Sponheim, Paul.  The Pulse of Creation (Fortress, 1999).

Stackhouse, John. Can God Be Trusted? Faith and the Challenge of Evil (Oxford, 1998).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiesel, Elie.  Ani Maamim: A Song Lost and Found Again (New York, 1973).

Williamson, Clark M. A Guest in the House of Israel (Westminster/J. Knox,  1993).

Wink, Walter.  Engaging the Powers (Fortress, 1992).



Berry, Wanda Warren, "Images of Sin and Salvation in Feminist Theology", Anglican Theological Review, Jan., 1978.

Fowler, James W., "Bio-Cultural Roots of Shame, Conscience and Sin", CTNS Bulletin, Winter, 1993.

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Lowe, Mary Elise. “Woman Oriented Hamartiologies: A Survey of the Shift From Powerlessness to Right Relationship,” Dialogue, Summer, 2000.

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Walter Sundberg. "The Demonic in Christian Thought", The Lutheran Quarterly, Winter, 1987.

Walter Sundberg.  A Primer on the Devil", First Things, Jan., 1993.