Before reading my letter to Mr Fry, please be sure to watch the above video.
Dear Mr. Fry,
I’ll always be appreciative of your hilarious wit which made “Stephen Fry in America” such an enjoyable show. I’ve also enjoyed much of your other work, notably your very funny early work with Laurie!
This week, in an interview, you shared your opinions on theodicy and God. I’ve known for some time that you are an atheist and that you subscribe to a different belief system than I. What I did not know, is that you believe differently for such tragically misinformed reasons. If you will allow me, I’d like to share with you a different way of considering some of your honest questions about the human condition and God.
In the interview, you mentioned pain and suffering as sensible reasons for disbelief in God, specifically talking about a child with bone cancer and insects which burrow into eyes. Your response to these terrible events is that if God does exist, he must be a “maniac” and you want nothing to do with him.
And the question you ask is “why?” Why create a universe in which this kind of pain and suffering exist? Why create a people who are vulnerable to these kinds of injustices? Why would a God who loves, and is benevolent, construct such a monstrous place?
A fair question; and if the premise of your question were true, I suppose I would not believe in that God either. Who would want anything to do with such a God? But the problem is, in fact, your premise. You assume quite a lot in saying God would or has created such a place. Because according to the Christian worldview, God most emphatically did not create such a place. God did not create a universe with suffering, pain and injustice. God did not create a universe with disease and starvation. Humankind created that place, and if you take time to consider the Christian worldview, you will discover that God is just as broken up about it as we are.
There are a few important things to consider about the Christian belief system if you want to know what God is like:
- God created a perfect, pain-free world.
- Humanity broke the world God created and made a cesspool out of it.
- God became man in order to repair His broken world, from the inside out, using love and a subversion of death to do so.
- God now invites the rest of his human creation to join him in the task of renovating and repairing His admittedly broken world.
Let’s look at each of these quickly. Your premise that God created an unjust and painful world is flawed. The world is indeed painful, but Christianity teaches that God’s world is not full of pain and broken because he created it that way, but rather because he created beings who would be capable of breaking his world. This does seem like a huge risk to take, but isn’t it the same risk we all take when we experience love? To give yourself to another, in the hope you will not be rejected. And it was this capacity to act volitionally, given to us out of God’s perfect love, which allows us to choose as free agents whether we accept or reject God’s love. We have free will. God did not have to give us free will, but without it, we would not be human, and we would be incapable of the greatest of human experiences, love.
So God created beings that he loved and beings who had the capacity to love him back. But this also means that some choose not to love him back. To be loved and not return love is a tragedy; it is also what broke the world. It was a turning away from God’s good creation that transformed the universe into the unjust and painful place you describe in your interview. But this was not God’s doing. God is perfect love and perfect beauty, but in turning away from God’s love and beauty, humanity chose the less beautiful, the less loving and the less good – these choices are what Christians call sin.
When humanity turned from God and toward the imperfect and less good, the world became less than what God intends it to be. Not because God created it that way, but because humanity has chosen to act in a way which is contrary to God’s love. You know this to be true. Humanity has inflicted more pain and violence on each other than a capricious God ever could have. So humanity, as an act of volition, did turn God’s good creation into a cesspool, and we did it through violence, power struggle, war, greed etc.
God takes no pleasure in the current state of his creation, and Scripture is replete with the heartbreak of a creator whose created beings inflict such sadistic pain upon themselves and each other. Could God send lightning bolts from heaven each time an evil is about to be perpetrated? Could God intervene each time someone is about to commit an evil act which will cause pain and suffering? Yes, but that would also be taking away our humanity – our ability to be free agents within creation, to choose, to love and to participate not as robots, but as humans. So what can God’s response to this be? I’m glad you asked.
The only way to remake creation (without destroying it and starting again or violating the divine nature as well as human will) would be to enter creation and fix it from the inside out. God would become human, and model a new way to be human, inviting the rest of humanity to join him in his creation remaking work. Christians call that human, Jesus. And Christians believe that Jesus did teach us a new way to be human – to relate to others, to forgive, to defy the brokenness and corruption of this world.
But it turns out that the world wasn’t ready, or didn’t want a new way to be human. After all, to accept this new way of being human would undermine the power structures of this world and require a new way of living. So they killed Jesus.
But it was in this violent act that the true subversive power of God was revealed. Because Christians believe that for Christ, death was not the end.
Death has always been the greatest enemy of God’s good creation; it was the final insult to the good which God had created. But as I’m sure you know, Christians believe that in Christ, death itself was overcome. And Scripture teaches that we too will be resurrected with Christ, not to play harps on clouds for eternity, but rather to join with God in the remaking of his creation.
Until that day of resurrection, it is the Christian task to repair what is broken, love when hated, comfort the afflicted, forgive wrongdoers, bring peace to war and feed the hungry. That is the world God intends for us. And because he allows us to choose what we will make of our lives and decide how we will relate to our neighbor, the responsibility is on us, not God. God desires to make us into the sort of creatures who are capable of building a world with him. So far, we have not done a great job.
Mr. Fry, I understand how you can look around you, see the state of the world and be disgusted. Human beings can do disgusting and horrible things to each other. But please remember, God did not leave humanity alone to experience pain and suffering. But he entered into it, through Christ.
God understands the pain of this world and he himself has experienced it. So I hope you would consider that God loves his creation and his creatures; and that through Christ, God has already begun the process of remaking the world, one man at a time.