Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry (DMin)




Martin Luther University College

First Advisor

Peter VanKatwyk

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This research project explores the experience of God and the discussion of God in the context of the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering of patients who are in palliative care. It first places suffering and the experience of God in the theological language of theodicy. It also places suffering and the experience of God in the language of Grace, utilizing Karl Rahner's definition of Grace as the self-gift of God to humanity. The nature of the suffering, in the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, is "innocent." The thesis probes the question of how palliative patients, as people who suffer innocently, talk about God, in order to discover from them what this experience might be like. The thesis explores Dorothee Soelle's description of the three phases of suffering: muteness, protest, and faithful acceptance, in light of the two great mysteries of life: innocent suffering, and the experience of God. The research project follows a Qualitative design of twenty-two interviews with palliative patients from two hospitals and one long-term care facility. The interviews were semi-structured with the Research Question and the accompanying questions, allowing for new questions to come to light in the process of listening to the stories which were told by the patients as they responded to the questions. The interviews varied from thirty to sixty minutes in length, depending on the physical condition of the patient. The interview process highlighted the application of a narrative therapy framework. This framework is discussed in this thesis in the context of the interconnecting themes that emerged out of the stories of one of the research participants. This research took place in the concrete ministerial context of listening to palliative patients as they talk about God, in order to discover what their experience of suffering and of God-talk might be and "what helps." The results of the project show that many held God as central to their sense of hope in the midst of their suffering. It seemed that their ability to speak specifically about God, Holy Mystery, was of assistance as they endured the sufferings associated with a life-threatening illness.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Christianity Commons