I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that I decided to write this post now because of the recent viral video of Stephen Fry’s views on God. Fry, when asked what he would say to God when he dies, responded passionately, saying that he would say things like, “how dare you?”, and describing God as “capricious” and “utterly, utterly evil”.
The video –
Fry’s beloved status in the eyes of many British people and his obvious intellectual prowess add weight to his words, and the overall effect is of an argument that is both persuasive at a glance and difficult to argue against. Krish Kandiah, president of the London School of Theology, has already written a response, which you can read here, along with severeal others, so you might be wondering why I’m bothering. What’s the point of me, a student, writing a post in response to a national giant that only relatively few people will read? What qualifies me? Well I’m not trying to convince Stephen Fry of anything by writing this, but what I can hope to achieve is to present another point of view to those of you who might be wondering what response there can be to such a powerful tirade, and I am in a position to do this, as is every Christian, because I claim to personally know the God that Fry is attacking.
Now that’s a bold claim, I know, but it’s the claim of every Christian and it’s an essential part of why I believe that Stephen Fry is mistaken in the views that he espoused. I strongly urge you to read Krish Kandiah’s post as well as mine, as I’m not going to rehash his points in this post except to echo what he says regarding the difficulty Fry has in bringing a moral standard to bear against God. The only moral standard that he can be using is God’s own standard, and it would put him in a somewhat difficult place if he realised that in order to use that moral standard against God, he first has to admit that God was wise and just enough to create it in the first place, and that, given that God evidently has the mind-power to do such a thing, he might be a little hasty in calling God “stupid”.
What I really want to talk about, however, is the way that all the suffering in the world, all the bone cancer and the eye-eating insects that Fry mentions, actually points towards the mercy of God and the beauty of His plan.
Now, as a Christian, whatever you believe about the length and means of creation, you would be denying the fundamental message of Genesis if you tried to assert anything other than that humans were originally placed in a privileged position by God. It seems clear to me that we were not made to be just another animal in the animal kingdom, but that we have been blessed with a consciousness of God and a responsibility to act out His will on this planet in a way that nothing else in creation is able to.
But, as many of you will know, things went wrong in Genesis 3, and our ancestors rejected that same will of God and followed the desires of their matter, their flesh, the thing that we share with the rest of the animal kingdom. I might be wrong here, but it seems that when we fell, when we became mortal, we became subject to the brutality of nature in a way that we were never intended to be. There is talk of enmity between serpents and humanity, women experience pain in childbirth, we’re forced to struggle with the land for our resources. Essentially, we lose many of the privileges that we were created for. We are weak and vulnerable to cancers and genetic diseases; organisms prey on us; we know what it is to suffer.
This was not God’s intention. God’s intention is seen at the beginning of Genesis and then throughout the Bible in the prophecies and promises of a restoration that is to come. The problem is, because of humanity’s complete rebellion and fall – something that was not just limited to the first humans, but happens again and again with us now – the way back to God is not easy. I came across a fantastic verse in the Bible the other day that puts this brilliantly:
‘Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.’ (2 Samuel 14:14)
And God has devised ways, well, one in particular. Jesus Christ came to die to free us from this sin and pain. Actually, the narrative of the fall helps us to understand a bit more what God went through for us. As far as we fell from privilege to suffering and pain, how much further did God have to come down in order to expose Himself to that suffering and pain, given that He is above creation not by privilege, but by His very nature (see Philippians 2)? That doesn’t sound utterly evil or capricious to me, that sounds beautiful.
But I haven’t actually addressed the issue of mortality. Why did God make us fall? Why does God allow us to experience pain and then to die? I believe that it’s because every hardship, every instance of pain, and every time we suffer, we are reminded how far we’ve fallen, and we are taught to be humble. We realise that our lives are akin to those of flowers that spring up and die in a day, that no matter what we achieve it will crumble to dust and we will be forgotten. It is through the humility that we learn that we are able to come to God.
This is not because, as Fry argues, he is selfish and mean and wants us to grovel. The God that I know is completely different from this straw man he creates because the God I know humbled Himself far more than He can ever ask us to be humbled. He asks us to do nothing that He hasn’t already done. We need to be humble simply because we need to be able to recognise that God has made a way out of this mess of our own creation, and that we can’t get out of on our own.
So in every trial and tribulation, in every pain, there is the mercy of God, as He reminds us, again and again and again that we were not made for this; we were made for more. He reminds us that He has made a way for us to live in the privilege that we were designed for, and He assures us, through the pain of His crucifixion, that He knows what we suffer, and it is His desire and will that there will come a day when we will suffer no more.
To Stephen Fry I say this: I am sorry for whatever pain you have experienced that might have caused you to think about God in this way, but that pain is not punishment from a sadistic God. This pain we feel is the call of God to our mortal bodies that we were made for more, but that we are not strong enough to get there on our own. If that is capricious and utterly evil, then I think our definitions of the terms differ.