Sunday, 1 February 2015
Stephen Fry and theodicy
" I don't know if God exists but it would be better for his reputation if he didn't. (Jules Renard)
Stephen Fry's rant about how God "dare" to create such a brutal world is doing the rounds on YouTube and social media at the moment. I personally am not offended by Fry's view; the notion that theodicy, any attempt to account for a loving God in the face of a cruel world, is futile or even obscene is not a new one. The view he expresses has its validity and Fry has a right to his opinion even if it does not express my own world view.
I have blogged before about suffering and the way that Jesus's suffering and humanity helps me to begin to make sense (I don't claim to have wholly made sense) of a world in which human happiness is blighted not just by man's inhumanity but by disease and natural disaster.
What would Jesus's answer be to the question about how he dare to allow a child to have bone cancer?
Well, I think he might explain that he was that child with bone cancer. That he was the man whose sight was destroyed by the parasite. That he was and is each and everyone of us who faces poverty, exclusion, cruelty and suffering. He might ask where were we when he was hungry, helpless and naked- in fact I think he has said he will? With regard to the child with bone cancer, I think he might ask us how much we truly cared? Did we give all of our money away, as he exhorted us to, and do everything we could to eradicate the disease? Or did we keep a fair bit back to fund our pension pots? He might ask us if we sat by complacently not bothering to look for a vaccination to Ebola until we felt personally threatened? He might ask if to consider our disregard for our planet and the huge amount of suffering we are likely to be inflicting on future generations- our own children and their world.
We would do well to reflect that the world we live in has been made a thousand times worse by our actions. What a suffering world does give us is the opportunity to reach out to others and to heal and offer hope. Jesus came to earth to model this to us - have we followed his example? He taught us that we are blessed if we are poor in spirit, humble, peacemakers, yet haven't we persisted in egotism, selfishness and greed?
So I think Fry's rant, although I accept is it his truth, is a little limited. I am never going to be complacent about suffering, and yet it is true that much of our greatest literature is tragedy, the exploration of human pain is deeply connected to our search for meaning in life.
I believe that we are put on earth partly to ponder meaning and to think about the answers to questions which are by no means easy - and that we then go back home and tell what we have learnt.