Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Fry - and the cross

Of course many people have offered comment on the Stephen Fry interview.  If he, unexpectedly, came face to face with God after death, Fry would essentially accuse God.  The world is full of suffering.  Cancer in children.  Hideous parasites.  God, if he made a world like this, is 'capricious, mean-minded, stupid'.  If such a God exists, he should be resisted and hated.

This is not so much atheism as anti-theism.  I am not denying that Fry is an atheist, just making the point that this particular argument is not an argument against God's existence, but an argument against God's goodness.  If God exists, he cannot be good, based on our experience of the world.

I have some sympathy.

I have definitely had moments when the world in its beauty has cried out to me that there is a Creator.  The starry sky above me certainly seems to demand an explanation, not just for why it is at all, but for why it is so great, so beautiful.  I have seen my children born and, for a moment, had no doubt whatsoever that a good God exists.

But I think more often I have been painfully aware that the world is a terrible place.  I have not really suffered, personally, but I know people who really have.  And I watch the news.  I am more often impressed by the horror of the world than the beauty.  I can see where Stephen Fry is coming from.  Based on observation of the world alone, I doubt I would be a worshipper of God.  Maybe there are philosophical answers to the 'problem of evil', but I don't think any of them would be enough to shift the suspicion that God might well be capricious and mean-minded.

So here's the thing, the one thing, that for me clinches the question of faith and suffering:  Jesus Christ, crucified.

Once you have seen God stretched in agony on the cross, it is hard to think of him as capricious, no matter what else is going on in the world.

Once you have heard God cry out with one of his last painful breaths for the forgiveness of his enemies, it is hard to think of him as mean-minded, no matter the apparent evidence from elsewhere.

A God who voluntarily suffers is not the God against whom Fry launches his accusation.  And if the Christian story is true - if that suffering was redemptive for us - then God, far from being capricious and mean-minded, is astonishingly loving.

It is not that every question about suffering is answered by the cross of Christ.  But every question is changed.  If God is so committed to the elimination of suffering, and of the moral evil with which the Bible insists suffering is associated (albeit in complex ways), then the question to direct to God in the face of ongoing horror in the world is not 'how dare you?' but 'how long, O Lord?'  You have said you hate suffering, you have demonstrated that you are serious at the cross - how much longer must we endure it?  That question is painful, but perhaps it is a pain that is bearable in the light of the cross.

Other questions are changed too.  Why would a good God create a world which contained so much suffering?  That is a valid question.  But it means something different when placed alongside the questions 'why would a sovereign God create a world in which a creature like Stephen Fry could call him stupid?  Why would a glorious God create a world in which Roman soldiers could spit in his face?'  Of course we can ask 'why have you put us all through this, God?' - but we can also ask 'why have you put yourself through all this, God?.

And the answer from the cross is: because of love.


  1. Thanks Daniel, a helpful response.

  2. Very helpful - the cross was all I could point my grandfather-in-law to when he told me about the liberation of Belsen

    1. Indeed - I was struck a few years back by the foreword to Elie Wiesel's 'Night' - http://danielblanche.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/night.html