May 9, 2017 Aaron Ross

Stephen Fry, God, and the Church’s Response

This past weekend, Stephen Fry, British comedian and actor, came back into the spotlight for making some “blasphemous” comments about God. Fry made these comments over two years ago on an interview for an Irish public television show. These comments were brought back into the spotlight over the weekend, causing a lot of outrage from Christians. Understanding Fry’s comments could be quite helpful to Christians, even amidst their very negative tone. Before we go any further, however, I would suggest you watching this short clip of the part of Fry’s interview that caused such a backlash (even up unto the point of a police investigation):

Given what Fry has said here, it is no wonder that some Christians’ first reaction is to be quite upset with Fry and ready to defend God vehemently. However, should this be a Christian’s first response? Should we first argue before we really listen? The answer to these questions, I presume, is what causes one of the biggest struggles for Christians in an ever secularized age.

Fry is definitely not the first person in history to struggle with the hard-to-reason thought that there is an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God and yet evil exists. In philosophical and theological realms, this is often referred to as the “problem of evil.” Fry’s comments in his interview reflect that problem at a very emotional level. Why would God let children die from diseases that He should be able to so easily cure, or better yet, eradicate altogether?

In answering this question, there are a few different methods that can be used. Some have pointed to philosophy or theology to try provide a sufficient answer. The problem of evil is made more apparent in the different ways people view God. Some respond to the problem Fry makes so apparent by thinking of God as a heavy-handed overlord beyond question. Others struggle with evil because they view God as some kind of “cosmic vending machine” – put in enough prayer, faith, and good works, and chose whatever life you want, God will give it to you!

However, the point of this article is not to answer this problem of evil (considering if history has shown us anything, this question will be around for a very long time), but rather talk about how we, as the Church, should respond to people who struggle with this important and quite nagging question.

Many people, especially those who are dealing with loss within their family due to sickness, natural disasters, accidents, and more are trying to comprehend God in light of their experiences. This is the struggle we find in Fry’s comments. He is trying to take what he has heard from the Church and from Scripture and make sense of it in light of the evil and suffering we see around us all the time.

The real problem for the Church is not that people are asking these questions, or struggling with this idea. The main problem is when the Church stops listening, being empathetic, and caring for those who are hurting. Our responses should not be “how dare you question God!” or some other non-helpful vitriol response, but rather, we should be willing to listen to, take care of, and embody love for those who struggle with this. In reality, I would be willing to assume that we have all struggled with the problem of evil in our own way.

We may not be able to theologically or philosophically answer this question in a once-and-for-all way, but we can, as the hands and feet of Christ, be those who are the “hands and feet” of God in a world so desperately in need of Him.

Rather than get mad at Stephen Fry for his comments about God and evil, I would hope we can say “I get it”, apologize for not always being the best representatives of Christ, and work towards better serving with and helping people who are struggling with the evil found within the world.

When we fail to respond with empathy and love, we only hurt those who need God in moments of suffering all the more.

I take Fry’s words as a cautious reminder. We cannot just talk about God being a loving God. We have to show that love to others, amidst pain, suffering, and evil. We have to think and talk (meaning how we do theology) about God in helpful balanced ways so we do not view God as an angry overlord or a vending machine god to be used as we desire. As Jürgen Moltmann has so aptly showed us in his theological body of work, God suffers along with us (shown by the suffering of Christ). Let us be more like God. Let us suffer with others even as we sometimes go through suffering.

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About the Author

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Aaron Ross Aaron Ross is an instructor of theology at Southeastern University and a PhD student at the University of Birmingham (UK). He is also the senior editor of ECCLESIAM. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys running and being an avid movie watcher.