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An Explanation of Divine Suffering

Updated on August 12, 2017

Book Report: Fretheim, T. (2010). Creation Untamed: The Bible, God and Natural Disasters. Grand Rapids, Baker Academic.

Introduction

Natural disasters have been examined by scientists and scholars who have also forecasted the change and impact of such disasters to the future of humanity. The book by Fretheim explores the prevalence of natural disasters, their impact on humanity and the cause behind them. The book can be said to concur with the current events pertaining to the occurrence of natural disasters such as the high magnitude floods in some parts of Australia, high level earthquakes in Japan, and New Zealand, the emergency of cyclones that have been dangerous in various parts of the world and many other disasters. Fretheim has deeply analyzed some of the Biblical texts that focus on creation to bring out a wider perspective over this subject. The review will discuss and analyze the theme of divine suffering as presented by Fretheim.

Discussion

The theme of suffering is presented in chapter 4 of Fretheim’s book. In this chapter, the author explains that God is a rational being and hence; places high concern in establishing and heightening his relationship with humanity. In other words, God has a desire to establish a positive and strong relationship with human beings for his benefit and the benefit of man. Fretheim (2010) tries to answer the question asked by many people on why God neglects those who are suffering or why he appears to be “doing nothing” to those who are undergoing suffering. In his answer, he argues that despite God being a rational being, he is at the same time mandated to honor the basic feature of God-creature relationship. According to the author, God honors this relationship by employing restraint and constraint behavior as a way of exercising his authority over his creatures. Fretheim goes on to argue that God has designed suffering to be a necessary part of humanity while he is on earth. This statement may not go down well with individuals who do not want to do anything to do with suffering and would do anything to evade suffering.

The interesting note which Fretheim makes in his book and which deviates from the Christian perspectives is that suffering is not caused by sin. He even goes on to employ the scriptures in stressing this point. Another interesting thing made by the author is that there are essential elements of the creation which could trigger suffering, an example being cell mutation. Cell mutation though necessary may lead to cancer and other dangerous diseases.

Fretheim’s statements points out that suffering has no definite cause and that it cannot be avoided since it is part of life. The statement further aligns with the ministry and life of Jesus Christ whose major work was showing compassion to humanity and choosing to pass through the worst sufferings on earth. It should be considered that true love and compassion cannot be complete without suffering. This aspect is further emphasized by Fretheim who articulates that in order for suffering to end, “God had to enter into the world’s suffering and use the same in order to make it come to an end” (p 134). Human beings are therefore, required to partner with God in order to end suffering.

By taking part in the suffering of the world, God has already played his part in this process. God now is in a better position to help those who are suffering considering the experiences he also went through. In the book of Hebrews 2: 18, God had through his son, subjected himself to trials and temptations, thus he as well understands the sufferings and temptations of his people. The Bible goes on to articulate that God now has an opportunity to sympathize with his people, tempt their faith, make them humble, stir them to prayer, be dependent on God’s grace and power and to be conscious at all times. This is the essence of trials and temptations.

Conclusion

The Gospel is clear that suffering is not in vain but has a redemptive cause. Further, suffering is in most cases utilized by God for the good of humanity. As long as one is still here on earth, he or she will continue to experience suffering since it is only in heaven where this will be eliminated. Therefore, in line with Fretheim suffering is an essential part of human life which God uses to uplift his people. Nonetheless, there is hope for end of suffering since God had already initiated it by taking and being part of it.

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