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Spring 1992 · Vol. 21 No. 1 · pp. 80–82 

Recommended Reading

The Problem of Evil

Jeff Wright

Pastors and church leaders, among others, keep probing the theological and ethical dimensions of suffering. The questions, “Where is God when I hurt?” and “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” are never far from the sufferer. I recommend seven books that give some handles on the theological and ethical questions regarding theodicy.

Fretheim, Terence E. The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Fortress, 1984. 166 pp.

The concern of this book is to engage the reader in considering the kind of God who is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Written from a Lutheran pietist perspective, Fretheim examines the Hebrew texts and draws from them a view of God that is something of a departure from traditional conceptions of the Old Testament God, often depicted by modern critical scholarship as punitive and vindictive. For Fretheim, God is more a co-traveler and engaged in our suffering.

Hauerwas, Stanley. Suffering Presence. U. of Notre Dame, 1986. 217 pp.

Stanley Hauerwas observes that suffering is an ethical problem, as well as a theological one. Suffering Presence seeks to help the reader grapple with what medicine is about. Hauerwas wrestles with the purposes of medicine and pastoral care, both in general and in specific test cases. This is an important book for pastors and others who deal frequently with medical issues. {81}

Hick, John. Evil, and the Love of God (rev. ed.). Harper & Row, 1977. 386 pp.

Perhaps the classic textbook in the field of theodicy today. Hick develops two options in understanding the classical “problem of evil” (i.e., If God is loving and omnipotent, how can evil exist?). One “solution” is formulated by Augustine (354-430 A.D.). A second (and, for Hick, the more preferred) “solution” is formulated first by Irenaeus (c. 130-c.202 A.D.). The 1977 edition includes a strong bibliographic chapter that will put the reader in touch with many recent writings on theodicy.

Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Schocken Books, 1981. 149 pp.

A popular work on the problem of evil by a Jewish rabbi who has been influenced by “process theology.” This book identifies theodicy as, “[the] one question which really matters.” Kushner’s book is compelling in its very readable style and personal sharing. Parishioners in crisis will read this book. For that reason alone, so should readers of Direction.

McWilliams, Warren. The Passion of God: Divine Suffering in Contemporary Protestant Theology. Mercer U Press, 1985. 191 pp.

Not strictly a book on the problem of evil. Rather, McWilliams asks the question, “Does God suffer?” and reviews the writings of six contemporary theologians on that question. McWilliams seeks a modern reconsideration of the ancient (and rejected) doctrine of “patripassianism." To do this, McWilliams draws from Anglo-American, African-American and Asian Protestants to suggest that God does, in fact, suffer, and that such divine suffering opens new horizons, theologically and pastorally, for dealing with the problem of evil.

Willimon, William H. Sighing for Eden: Sin, Evil and the Christian Faith. Abingdon, 1985. 204 pp.

Willimon’s book is an excellent survey guide into the realm of theodicy. He uses narrative to “own” the issue of {82} theodicy. He uses and critiques Hick’s categories (see above). He wrestles with Rabbi Kushner (also see above). Where this book is especially valuable is in its use as a book for a discussion group or Sunday school class. Willimon does not leave theodicies for theologians and ethicists, pastors and sufferers only. Willimon makes theodicy a church issue, which is where it belongs.

Jeff Wright is pastor-teacher of Peace Mennonite Fellowship, a network of House Churches in Southern California, and Director of the Center for Anabaptist Studies, the Conference-Based Theological Education program of the Council of Anabaptists in Los Angeles.

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