Stephen Fry’s response to the question, “What would you say to God if you met him at the pearly gates?” has gone viral in the last few weeks. Almost 6 million views to date.
In a previous blog post, I applauded the fact that in the UK we are free to express our faith position without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I’m glad that the much loved, and usually softly spoken Stephen Fry has raised this topic in public consciousness right now.
But having listened to his response, the question that must be asked is this – which God is Stephen railing against? Because it sure isn’t the God of the Bible!
I don’t know any Christians who believe in a God who has decided to create children with bone cancer, or a God who inflicts torture and suffering on those least equipped to deal with it. I don’t know of any Christian who would feel that this world is just as God intended it to be. Rather…creation is CONFUSED (as Romans 8:20, CEV puts it)…our world is messed up right now. Further – it is also suffering from DECAY (as Romans 8:21 puts it). But the hope is that creation would be set FREE from that decay. This is the hope of the Christian; a new creation which is free from the tragedies and the sufferings of life that so incense Stephen.
I agree with Stephen that the suffering should end. But I disagree with him that God is the source of the human suffering. This insane, capricious God of Stephen’s who inflicts suffering on children is not the God we meet in the pages of the Bible. The God of the Bible is working out his plans to positively recreate both us, and the reality that we inhabit in our lives.
Having gone to some lengths to point out the pain of human suffering, I’ve got to ask Stephen this. If there is no God, if we are all just chemicals floating in a randomly generated Universe, why is human suffering so important to you anyway?
Well – the tyranny of atheism says – if life has been hard, if you’ve been unlucky with your genes or your birthplace or just the breaks you’ve had in life…then tough! You just need to get on with it. There is no grand plan, there is no purpose. There is no point in placing any importance on one human being who suffers because in the end…whether that person is me or anyone else. I will die and the Universe will also eventually experience heat death…and it’s all done.
Dawkins is an expert at articulating a life without God.
“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” — Richard Dawkins
Yet as an atheist like Dawkins, Stephen cares about suffering children, even though without a God this seems like a strange philosophy.
So being a caring person like he is, what positive contribution does he make towards the problem of human suffering?
Nothing I can see (though I am absolutely sure he is privately generous to charities with his time and his money). And I do have a lot of empathy for him here…what positive response CAN Stephen give to suffering? None – because to the atheist, there is none. It just is. All Stephen seems to do is to blame God (if he’s there) and curse him for our predicament (if he’s to blame). As David Robertson says, the cry of atheism today is so often “God does not exist, and I HATE HIM!”.
And here lies the contradiction within Stephen’s position. If there is no overall purpose behind the universe, why does he speak as if there is? Why does he bother standing up for suffering children who are being robbed of their future? Here’s why – because he intuitively know it is ABSOLUTELY the RIGHT thing to do. His gut tells him its right even though his atheistic argument suggests it shouldn’t matter.
Why waste your time cursing the God you don’t believe in? If God doesn’t exist…why do so many people talk as if they hate him? Because our gut sense contradicts our irrational atheistic argument. We have a sense that he’s there, and we do all we can to drown it out in our lives.
Stephen is railing against a God that no Christian believes in. He is also incensed by the suffering that God doesn’t cause, and he has no answer to it. But the Bible clearly does.
“God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.” John 3:16, CEV
God holds the answer for people who are suffering. The answer is – LIFE!
Kingfisher Church Network, where I serve, is supporting our suffering family in Malawi, Africa right now. Floods have washed away lives, crops and homes. And like Stephen, we know in our guts that we MUST do something to help. So help is exactly what we are doing. But unlike Stephen, we have a good reason to do so. Namely that we view people as more than just a sum of their randomly generated parts.
- People are individually crafted by Jesus.
- As the church, we are Jesus’ hands and his feet. We are actively serving suffering, valuable people who each have a great, God crafted plan for their future.
- People will never really die…and so their lives matter right now.
The irony in all of this – is that like them, Stephen also really matters. Stephen is also valued by Jesus. All it would take is for him to receive it! I do wonder whether Stephen would give God the opportunity to get a word in, though.
“I rather hope that, were Stephen Fry ever to meet God, he would wait for a reply from God.” – Rowan Williams