Theodicy and Suffering

‘Many times we have to suffer very acutely until we finally quit being like a crustacean that sits in its hard shell and is always alone with its own self, caring for nothing going on around it. Isn’t there a special kind of religious hardshell?  Some have never observed that God is always God for all others and that he is not nearly so interested in the life of our individual souls, as in the birth of a community in which individuals think about others and practice this concern continually in intercession and thanksgiving. God is incomparably interested in that’. So wrote Eduard Schweizer in a sermon on suffering, published in God’s Inescapable Nearness, a wee collection of sermons that I’ve been reading during a brief interlude between preparing lectures on different topics.

I’m about to start preparing some lectures on what is most certainly among the most difficult of theological subjects; namely, theodicy and suffering. So far, I’m considering pulling together some selected readings from a number of places, including the following:

So at this point I’m requesting some help: Where else might I be looking? What other resources (film, poetry, opera, etc) might be useful here to help pastors think faithfully about these difficult questions and to encourage some fruitful conversation?

17 comments

  1. Last time I taught on it was not in an academic setting. We lived in Philippians for a good while, taking our cue from 1:29 and what flowed from that in the rest of the book. Col. 1:24 was also pretty powerful.

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  2. Paul Gavrilyuk’s “The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought?”

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  3. Marilyn McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (1999), and Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (2006)

    Brian Davies, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil (2006)

    Stephen T. Davies (ed.), Encountering Evil (2001)

    Paul Fiddes, The Creative Suffering of God (1988)

    Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (1987)

    D.Z Phillips, The Problem of God and the Problem of Evil (2004)

    Paul Ricoeur, Evil: A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology (2007)

    Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil (1986)

    Terrence W. Tilley, Evils of Theodicy (2000)

    Biography:
    Eli Wiesel, Night (1958)

    Literature:
    Albert Camus, The Plague (1948)
    The poetry of R.S. Thomas

    That should keep you going until Revelation 21:4!

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  4. One little book that’s real nice is Arthur McGill’s Suffering: A Test for Theological Method

    But one of the most powerful picture of suffering is Greg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin.” It’s pretty hard to watch, and even offensive in some places – not a bad thing for a movie about suffering.

    Thomas Hardy’s Poems “Nature’s Questioning”, “To an Unborn Pauper Child,” and “Hap” (although pick up any Hardy and you could find more).

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  5. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday, and his introduction to the book of Job

    Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy

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  6. Though it’s more a philosophical work, Soren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling” might offer an oblique commentary on suffering. Inasmuch, that is, as Kierkegaard insists that to be religious is to transcend the traditional boundaries of ethics and reason.

    May I also comment on your statement that “Some have never observed that God is always God for all others and that he is not nearly so interested in the life of our individual souls, as in the birth of a community in which individuals think about others and practice this concern continually in intercession and thanksgiving.”? I submit that these are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps God’s call to community and pastoral concern is, in fact, God’s care for the individual soul.

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  7. Also from Fiddes, his chapter on “The Vulnerable God and the Problem of Suffering” in his book “Participating in God”. Yacob Tesfai edited a book called “The scandal of a crucified world : perspectives on the cross and suffering.” What about the movie “shadowlands”?

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  8. There was a terrific BBC programme called God on Trial (broadcast in the autumn of 2008, if I remember correctly), which dramatises the famous litigation among a group of Jews at Auschwitz.

    And Svi Kolitz’s Yosl Rakover Talks to God, also a searing reflection on the Shoa. One commentator observes: “The story is, really, a shriek. It reads as if it was written by a fist.”

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  9. I found Harvard professor Jon D Levenson’s book ‘Creation and the Persistence of Evil’ (Princeton University Press, 1994) useful. Interesting ideas on creation ex nihilo and the role of chaos in the world, which has been picked up by Catherine Keller.

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  10. Hi Jason

    The recommendations have covered most of the bases. I would add Henri Blocher’s Evil and the Cross (Kregel, 2005) to the mix. He’s a French Evangelical theologian influenced by Paul Ricoeur and Stanley Hauerwas’ classic Naming the Silences (Eerdmans, 1990).

    Paul

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