God and Suffering

This semester, I am taking an excellent class called “God and Suffering” at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology (DSPT) in Berkeley. DSPT a member of the Graduate Theological Union where I am studying for a Masters in Theology. Our inspiring professor is Father Michael, also known as Michael J. Dodds, OP, Professor of Philosophy and Theology. Each week, we read about 70 pages then write a 1-1/2 page (300-500 word) reflection paper. Below is my paper from last week, for which we read the topic “Thomas Aquinas: The classical answer of faith.” Our reading assignments were:

  • Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica (1485), Part I, Question 19, article 9; Part I, Q.48, art.1-6; Part I, Q.49, art.1-2.
  • Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord (1980), 724-30.
  • Herbert McCabe, God and Evil: In the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (2010), 111-29.
  • Michael Dodds, “Thomas Aquinas, Human Suffering, and the Unchanging God of Love,” Theological Studies 52 (1991).
  • Robin Ryan, God and the Mystery of Human Suffering (2003), 116-139, 215-40.

It can be tricky writing a paper about a publication by your professor – but Father Michael liked it! I have been surprised at how much I like this class. I never took philosophy classes as an undergraduate because the cycling arguments seemed pointless. Now, I wish I had. This is one of the best classes I have taken. This afternoon, we used the Zoom video tool to hold our final class before Spring Break, on the topic “Modern and contemporary philosophical issues.” The transition from in-person classes in Berkeley to Zoom classes online has been virtually seamless. I don’t want to wait two weeks for our next class!

Weekly Reflection Paper 4
By Katy Dickinson
STPH-2209-1: GOD AND SUFFERING (Spring 2020)
12 March 2020

This presents my reflections based on our readings from Thomas Aquinas, Edward Schillebeeckx, Herbert McCabe, and Michael Dodds. I read the selections from Summa Theologica first. This is my first time reading Thomas Aquinas and he makes my head hurt. Due to what seems like many assumptions and special language, I think I understand about half of what he wrote; however, I want to understand it all. I am glad that we also read Schillebeeckx, McCabe, and Dodds, whose reflections on Thomas were enlightening and gave me more context. I was particularly interested in the “On Evil” section headed with the question “Whether pain has the nature of evil more than fault has?” Partly due to Thomas’s highly-condensed writing style and very brief descriptions, I was unclear at first what pain and fault have to do with each other. I now think that pain may mean physical suffering and also punishment, and that fault may mean sin. It seems from Thomas’s two examples, of blindness (created or natural evil), and loss of the vision of God (uncreated or moral evil), that he is considering a broad definition of evil. I can understand how blindness can be created by disease or physical disorder, but I struggle with how pain can deprive someone of the vision of God. Maybe Thomas is speaking of the depression and despair of long-term pain? Fault being opposed to the fulfillment of the divine will made more sense to me if I considered fault to be sinful pride. I visualized a rebellious angel or an arrogant and selfish man who is opposed “to divine love whereby the divine good is loved for itself, and not only as it is shared by the creature” (Aquinas, 473). I was charmed by the succinct neatness of Thomas’s reasoning, “fault is not intended for the sake of the pain, as merit is for the reward; but rather, on the contrary, pain is brought about so that the fault may be avoided, and thus fault is worse than pain” (Aquinas, 473).

The stark opening Michael Dodds’s “Thomas Aquinas, Human Suffering, and the Unchanging God of Love” was effective in creating a horrifying definition of human suffering. However, it took me several readings to understand God’s relationship to that suffering. Dodds writes that the attractive but imperfect concept of God suffering with us is incompatible with the nature of God. He then presents Thomas Aquinas’s understanding of the mystery of God intimately and compassionately identifying with our suffering, “because the head and members are one body” (Dodds, 341). I was inspired by Dodds’s closing description of the role of theologians because it feels like my goals as a teacher, “not to give easy answers to difficult questions… rather to lead them into the mystery of God and so help them learn to speak of God for themselves” (Dodds, 343).

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Images Copyright 2020 by Katy Dickinson.


Filed under Church, News & Reviews

3 responses to “God and Suffering


    Very instructive, evoking my interest in the subject’ God and Suffering’, and Theology in general. Quite relevant to making a sense of these difficult times, as well. Thank you so much Habib

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