Divine and human suffering: notes from Providence, RI

I am relaxing in my bed at a Ramada Inn—room 214, to be exact—in Seekonk, MA, right outside Providence, RI, where a powerhouse theological conference got underway this evening. The conference is titled, “Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering,” and it stars some of the great thinkers in the field of theology today, including Bruce McCormack, Robert Jenson, David Bentley Hart, Bruce Marshall, and Paul Gavrilyuk.

Tonight, Avery Cardinal Dulles gave the keynote address, and Father Tom Weinandy offered the response. Dulles said nothing new, but he spoke as the warm pastoral man that he is. He offered a quick overview of divine omnipotence in Scripture and the question of evil in the history of philosophy. He closed by listing seven possible responses to human suffering, concluding that the way of the saints—a reverent and confident trust in God—is the proper Christian response. Weinandy spoke about the transcendence of God as the condition for God’s acting in history. He asserted that we must begin our reflection upon divine being by first positing the transcendent perfection of God—God is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, etc.—before we can properly speak of God’s relation to time and space. My quick response: how do you know God apart from what God did in time and space?

Tomorrow’s schedule is jam-packed with great speakers. More notes from Providence coming tomorrow.