By now I am sure you have seen the Stephen Fry video where we was interviewed on Irish tv by Gay Byrne. In particular, the segment where we was asked about God and he revealed his deep hatred for a god who could let such horrible things as bone cancer in children or worms that eat through eyes, exist in the world.
I read a lot of responses to the video from Christians and there are a few things that stood out for me. In some cases, how alarmingly little grace there was shown towards Stephen Fry and in some really encouraging responses of understanding and thoughtfulness.
For example, in Pete Greig’s response he showed us that we shouldn’t be angry at Stephen Fry because the god he doesn’t believe in, is also a god that we shouldn’t believe in either. His quoting of Walter Wink when he said ‘against some images of God, the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion’ summing up nicely the great value that atheism can hold in our pursuit of God.
But there are other reasons why we shouldn’t hate Stephen Fry or even what he said.
The first one is an important one and is something that if more of us remembered and let resonate with us, would see Christianity have a much more powerful effect in the world.
It’s that God does not need us to defend him. Even if what Stephen Fry said is completely blasphemous (it isn’t and I’ll explain why soon) God is not a child who’s feelings have been hurt. No amount of yelling at God or accusing him of allowing evil to exist in the world will mean that our faith is being trampled on. When many of us claim to believe that He is the creator and sustainer of the universe, it is a little strange when we think in this area He needs defending.
If we want the world to listen to the message of Love, Grace, Peace, Justice and Hope for everyone, which Jesus came to instill in mankind, then we need to exhibit all those characteristics in how we interact with those who don’t agree. We need to leave behind arrogance and anger.
Otherwise like Paul says, we’re just making a lot of ungodly noises that are just irritating at best.
When you are so confident in something then there is no need to go on the offensive. Otherwise it exposes what you really think about the thing you are defending so vehemently.
Which is, and this is my second point, that our faith may not be as strong as we think it is.
Through his honesty he gave words to thoughts and ideas about God that many Christians already hold but due to the fear of doubt are frightened to admit to.
When we hold doubts about a God who is supposed to be the one that we can trust in all situations, this usually leads to anxiety. This can be an extremely scary place to inhabit, after all everything we believe to be true can suddenly be called into question, leaving our identity shaken.
This can lead to anger. And since we are reluctant to direct our anger towards God, after all He is still our last glimpse of hope, we direct it towards others who have no problem speaking the dark doubts and questions that are within each of us.
But this is not bad news for us. This is actually amazing news. Because, instead of living in this place we are free to be vocal about how we really think about God. I believe that we are called into a deeper state of being with God that is better than pretending that everything is alright, all of the time.
This is where we can actually learn a great deal from Stephen Fry. His disbelief in the god he describes has freed him to lose the fear that holds the rest of us back. He has no fear of his belief system falling apart and hence is living in a reality that is at least genuine.
And as Pete Grieg correctly states, we should also shed the god that Stephen Fry describes. Because that god is indeed a god that can’t be trusted. He is one that can’t accommodate our doubts and unbelief.
But that is not God. God is bigger than the one Stephen Fry disbelieves in. Which is great news because it means God can handle all our doubts and fears and anger.
We can lay them down. We can join in Jesus cry to his Father on the cross, when he cried out to him, feeling abandoned and let down. We can join the writers of the Psalms who felt this deep pain and isolation. We can join Job as he mourns the loss of his family and his whole life, because God can handle it.
So let Stephen Fry invite us into a new idea of God that has ample room for all the darkness and doubts that we have buried because of the fear of being shunned in the church or by ourselves.
That is where God is real.
That is where real faith can grow and come alive.
And that’s something we should all believe in.