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Creation Untamed

The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters

series: Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic

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"Fretheim dives headfirst into the swirling storm of practical biblical and theological questions that we all ask about God, tragedy, and suffering. Highly recommended!"--Dennis Olson, Princeton Theological Seminary

Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and hurricanes have plagued the earth throughout history. What is God's role in natural disasters and the human suffering they cause? This is a vexing perennial question. When destruction occurs due to "forces of nature," is the hand of God visiting judgment on a particularly sinful people, or has God simply left humanity to fend for itself?

The Bible often speaks of natural disasters, but its insights have been insufficiently explored. In Creation Untamed, leading Old Testament theologian Terence Fretheim offers fresh readings of familiar Old Testament passages--creation, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, the suffering of Job, and the biblical laments--to provide biblical resources for working through this topic. He presents an understanding of creation as good, but not perfect; examines the human experience of suffering; and explores the role of humans in the creative process. Fretheim shows the God of the Bible to be a compassionate, suffering, relational God, one we can turn to in prayer in times of disaster.

Rich in biblical insight, theological nuance, and pastoral wisdom, this accessibly written volume will benefit anyone thinking about the God of the Bible in relation to human suffering. It will appeal to students in courses on Bible, theology, or pastoral care as well as to pastors and thoughtful lay readers.

About the Series: The Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic series is published in conjunction with Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Leading scholars in biblical studies and systematic theology from a variety of theological traditions offer brief, suggestive treatments of specific topics, exploring the cutting edge of their current interests and latest thinking for the benefit of the whole church.
1. God Created the World Good, Not Perfect
2. The God of the Flood Story and Natural Disasters
3. Natural Disasters, the Will of the Creator, and the Suffering of Job
4. Suffering and the God of the Old Testament
5. God, Faith, and the Practice of Prayer


"In Creation Untamed, Terry Fretheim adjusts his goggles and dives headfirst into the swirling storm of practical biblical and theological questions that we all ask about God, tragedy, and suffering. Fretheim admits that the Bible cannot provide all the answers. Mysteries remain. Yet Fretheim skillfully guides the reader through the dark and choppy waters of theology and suffering, suggesting helpful ways to move and warning against less promising ways of understanding. This book is deeply biblical, highly practical, and richly theological. Highly recommended!"--Dennis Olson, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"There is no issue in contemporary faith more vexing than how we are to understand God's will and action in the event of natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes, wildfires and floods. Fortunately for readers, there is no more reliable guide for thinking biblically about these issues than Terence Fretheim. In this thoughtful and compact volume, Fretheim helps us not only to see clearly our own created vulnerability but also to encounter biblical testimony to a God who becomes vulnerable with us."--Bruce C. Birch, professor of Old Testament emeritus, Wesley Theological Seminary

"Who better than Fretheim to take up the hard contemporary question concerning the destructive forces on exhibit in creation! The author has spent his life thinking about these issues and reading these old texts forward toward our time and place. He begins with the conviction of the goodness of God's creation, and from there he launches into the dangers of reality and takes us with him."--Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Terence Fretheim explores the biblical materials to grapple with the devastation of natural disasters. He encourages readers to reconsider their traditional understanding of the relationship between God and suffering. I enthusiastically recommend Creation Untamed to all who want to be honest with the Bible and with life."--Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

"This is vintage Fretheim: provocative theological reflection combined with a careful reading of the biblical text. What does human suffering say about God? At a time when hard questions lead some to turn away from the Old Testament, Fretheim finds rich resources for probing the depths of the person of God and for rethinking the relationship of the divine to the world."--M. Daniel Carroll R., distinguished professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary

"With characteristic erudition, theological depth, and lively engagement, Terence Fretheim illuminates one of the most perplexing issues of faith: why natural disasters? Fretheim brings together a wide range of biblical texts and ably mines them for their wisdom about God's ways in the world. Such wisdom is critically needed when so much misunderstanding characterizes religious discourse today."--William P. Brown, professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Throughout history and yet today people have tended to view natural disasters as vengeful 'acts of God.' Fretheim has done us a great service by masterfully exposing how thoroughly this traditional perspective conflicts with a careful reading of the Bible's creation texts. Not all readers will agree with all of Fretheim's proposals, but all will benefit from the fresh perspective he brings to the biblical texts, the unsettling questions he invites us to consider, and the magnificent portrait of a loving, power-sharing, relational God who brings into being a dynamic creation full of beauty and risk."--Greg Boyd, senior pastor, Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul, MN

The Author

  1. Terence E. Fretheim

    Terence E. Fretheim

    Terence E. Fretheim (1936-2020; ThD, Princeton Theological Seminary) was Elva B. Lovell Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, where he taught for forty-five years. He is the author of more than twenty books, including commentaries on Genesis,...

    Continue reading about Terence E. Fretheim


"Here is a book by a veteran biblical theologian that bravely takes on . . . difficult questions in the context of the God and the world we meet in the Old Testament. Fretheim . . . considers how we might speak of God's relationship to natural disasters and the suffering and death related to them both in biblical times and now. Writing as an exegete and biblical theologian, he deals with the biblical texts as they stand in the Bible, though he is thoroughly conversant with the debates regarding their historicity. . . . In dealing with the serious questions that emerge from natural and human disasters, Fretheim resists the temptation to find a single and/or easy answer. Rather, he forces us to rethink (like Job) who God is and how God relates to us and our world."--Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, America

"Terence Fretheim's very useful book on God and natural disasters can be read with profit by believers with a wide range of views on sovereignty and 'divine action.'"--John Wilson, Christianity Today

"This exercise of biblical theology at its best is accessible to all."--James Chukwuma Okoye, CSSp, The Bible Today

"This book should be in the hands of every pastor. It is well written, in a conversational style; it is timely, and will remain so; there is outstanding exegesis on key sections of the Old Testament, the fruit of the author's life-long study and more academic publications. The pastor will return to Creation Untamed for preaching and for giving pastor care to those who suffer and a suffering world."--David Nash, FAPC, Sharing the Practice

"Quite simply, this is one of the most profound books I have ever read. In a world where we are seeing a plethora of natural disasters, many of which are the type forecast by climate scientists to be what we can expect more of in the future, Fretheim's excellent volume is timely indeed. . . . The relational, loving character of God is what comes through most in this book. This is quite an achievement in a book about the relationship between God and natural disasters. . . . Fretheim's book encourages us to trust in a God who is good, despite what we see around us, despite the indescribable pain of those in the midst of suffering. His explanations are biblical, well thought through, and compassionate. I recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand how it is that we can worship a God of love in a world where disasters fall indiscriminately on the just and the unjust."--Nils von Kalm, Ethos: Centre for Christianity and Society (

"Fretheim explores the nature of nature, God, life and behaviour. I was challenged, inspired, and scared by many aspects of this investigation--theologically and pastorally. . . . If you are prepared to take the risk, it's a good read."--Rob Dummermuth, Insight

"The book . . . retains the accessible and engaging qualities of a skilled lecturer and teacher, qualities for which Fretheim is well known. . . . This set of essays would form an excellent resource for a study group of pastors, seminarians, or lay people who want to follow a reliable and engaging guide into the depth and complexity of the biblical witness of how God works in the world, relates to humans, and interacts with the harsh realities of suffering and disaster."--Dennis Olson, Interpretation

"[A] small, but significant volume."--Old Testament Abstracts

"Fretheim brings forward various points useful for insight, potentially valuable for people we all know. . . . The topic is an urgent one for people of faith who want to live within their biblical tradition. Fretheim is . . . a skilled and knowledgeable guide. His biblical insights are fresh and useful, and the implications offered are invigorating. The book reads well without requiring extensive background knowledge. It is obviously written for people with these questions and their conversation partners."--Barbara Green, Word & World

"This volume is a clear and challenging analysis of the problem of God and natural disasters, taking a fresh approach to key biblical texts relevant to the topic. . . . Fretheim's book makes a significant contribution to this contentious topic. . . . I applaud the search to find the divine presence involved in the 'mess' of a continuing creation, whatever the natural catastrophe."--Norman Habel, Review of Biblical Literature

"[Fretheim] brings an Old Testament scholar's background and sensibility to the question [of natural evil], building his case mainly around the Genesis accounts of creation and the flood, and the book of Job. . . . In the end, questions of whether suffering is deserved are beside the point. God has willed a dangerous created order, but within that order he offers us a deep relationship with him and with one another."--Daniel Muth, Living Church