I live in a country where people are allowed to express their views and opinions about God. And I love it. We aren’t risking life and limb by putting forward a case for belief in Christianity. Further – we aren’t risking persecution or murder if we put forward a case against God, as Stephen Fry has done in a very public way recently. Blasphemy laws are chilling. Freedom of speech is so important, particularly on the subject of God. Why? Because every person’s spiritual journey is a gradual one, where the decisions we make are never completely final. It is a journey of discovery. And discussion about our doubts, fears and objections is an important feature of this journey.
Stephen Fry’s response to the question, “What would you say to God if he met you at the pearly gates?” has received almost 6 million hits on youtube. And in one sense – I am not surprised, because he is a much loved British Celebrity who appears in everything from blockbuster movies like the Hobbit all the way to TV Quiz shows like QI. He’s a smart, well studied and talented guy; an honest guy, one of the good ‘uns. He has not hidden his personal struggles with depression. He has taken it upon himself to be a voice for those struggling with emotional and mental disorders. And this just takes him further towards people’s hearts. Rightly so.
I guess what is so surprising to me about his response to the “what would you say to God” question, is just how emotional it is!
I notice two themes in his response. But both themes centre on Stephen’s feelings of moral outrage towards God.
First – moral outrage against a God who would create the world we live in today, with all its suffering and difficulties.
Second – moral outrage against God for failing to intervene in the affairs of the world and reverse the suffering of countless people.
As a Christian myself, I think there might be a few different ways to respond to Stephen…and I’m going to try to explore these over the next few days. But to begin with – I love what Justin Brierley has said in response.
Justin his appealed to the shared love they both have of Oscar Wilde. Stephen portrayed Oscar Wilde back in 1997 in a movie. Justin points Stephen to one of Oscar Wilde’s short stories – The Selfish Giant – and you can see the response here.
Children played in the Giant’s beautiful garden, until one day he selfishly threw them out and barred them from playing there. As a result of his selfishness, a permanent winter descended on the garden. The Giant suffered through his winter until – one day – a little child appeared. Suddenly the Giant had a change of heart; he lifted the child into one of his beautiful trees to play, and as a result the curse of the permanent winter was finally broken.
Many years later, the Giant is very old. And that special little child who lifted the curse returns to the Garden. The Giant runs to meet him and suddenly stops. Anger erupts in him as he sees the wounds on that precious child’s feet and hands.
“Who dared to wound you! Tell me, so that I can take my sword and kill him.” But the child responds, “No, you cannot. Because these are the wounds of love.”
Justin eloquently explains why this view of God is both relevant to where Stephen Fry is coming from, and also where the Bible is coming from.
“Wilde recognized that God is not a tyrant who makes the world an evil place. In a world that has been bent out of shape because of us, where winter reigns and the blossoms are few and far between, we have a God who has entered the darkness and borne it himself. A cross and nail prints – the wounds of love – define this God.”
Oscar Wilde’s story concludes. A strange awe falls on the Giant. “Who are you?” he asks. The child smiles at him.
“You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is paradise.”
And when the children return to play that afternoon, they find their friend the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with blossoms.
Stephen Fry rages against an evil, mad tyrannical God who seems morally corrupt. Yet the true God presented to us in the pages of the Bible is one who enters our own personal winter, he joins us in our suffering, because his goal is to lead us out of it into a permanent spring. For those who let him play in our own personally gardens (our lives), a wonderful future awaits us. And as Justin says, “that is a God worth believing in.”
“’For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV