Theology Missions Paper

January 2, 2022

Thiel, professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, offers a theological alternative to traditional theodicies indebted to philosophical analysis. But, make no mistake: This is a tightly reasoned treatise. Thiel believes that traditional theories have failed to acknowledge the genuine innocence of victims. He wants a position that avoids the “Scylla of a guilty God,” viewed as the cause or source of innocent suffering, or the “Charybdis of denying the common human experience of innocent suffering” (p.55). In this regards, he is particularly critical of Augustine’s supposition that no one suffers innocently since all are born into sin. Also, he criticizes the pot-modern tendency to affirm that God, while involved with the well-beings of the whole cosmos, is not providentially involved. Hence, he is critical of the perspective that sees death as a penalty as well as the “providential” explanation that seeks to align divine love with justice with the affirmation that in death “God call someone to heaven.” For Thiel, God is ever at odds with death (p.86).

Thiel wants his perspective on evil to be guided by three commitments. First, he affirms the traditional view of eternity and the absoluteness of the divine perfections. Second, he notes that the injustice of innocent suffering is an undeniable and tragic moral fact of life. It is not to be denied by transforming it into a meaningful vehicle of moral development, or by removing innocent suffering from the scope of divine providence. Third, he rejects the view that God is the cause of suffering either by permitting the evil victimization of some or by willing suffering through natural means. God neither permits, nor wills, nor causes any kind of suffering or death at all (p.59).

For Thiel, God’s presence in the universe testifies to the guilt of those perpetrate evil and offer solidarity with victims (p.131). Evil exists, in part, not only because of the deeds of perpetrators but also because God is self-restrictive in this world. Thiel affirms that God lets the otherness of creation with respect to God be taken seriously. Evil disrupts the goodness of this freedom. Thiel appeals to Luther’s notion of promise in order to affirm God’s solidarity with suffering.

Thiel’s is a fresh, crisp, thoughtful approach to a longstanding issue. It is to be welcomed by theologians, pastors, and church leaders.

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