Fry, Job, and the cross of Jesus Print
Word on Fire
Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

The British writer, actor, and comedian Stephen Fry is featured in a YouTube video which has gone viral: over five million views.

Fry is, like his British counterparts Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, a fairly ferocious atheist and debunker of all things religious.

Fry’s rant

In the video, Fry articulates what he would say to God if, upon arriving at the pearly gates, he discovered he was mistaken in his atheism.

Fry says he would ask God why he made a universe in which children get bone cancer, a universe in which human beings suffer horrifically and without justification. If such a monstrous, self-absorbed, and stupid God exists, Fry insists, he would not want to spend eternity with him.

There is much more to Fry's rant, but you get the drift.

Nothing new

To those who feel Stephen Fry has delivered a devastating blow to religious belief, let me say this: this objection is nothing new to Christians. St. Paul, Origen, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and many other Christian theologians up and down the centuries have dealt with it.

One of the pithiest expressions of the problem was formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. He argued that if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. Yet God is called infinitely good. Therefore, if God exists, there should be no evil.

But there is evil. Thus it seems that God does not exist. Thomas thereby conveys all of the power of Fry’s observations without the histrionics.

All this theological wrestling with the problem of suffering is grounded in the most devastating rant uttered against God, a rant found not in an essay of a disgruntled atheist philosopher but in the Bible. I'm talking about the Book of Job.

Job and God

Job is an innocent man, but he is nevertheless compelled to endure every type of suffering. In one fell swoop, he loses his wealth, his livelihood, his family, and his health.

A group of friends console him and attempt to offer theological explanations for his pain. But Job dismisses them all and, with all the fury of Stephen Fry, calls out God, summoning him to explain himself.

God then speaks in the longest speech by God in the Scriptures: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know . . . Who shut within doors the sea . . . when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place" (Job 38:4, 8-10)?

God takes Job on a tour of the mysteries, conundrums, and wonders of the universe, situating his suffering within frameworks of meaning that he had never considered.

I would first suggest to Fry that the true God is the providential Lord of all of space and all of time.

Our narrow point of view

Secondly, I would observe that none of us can see more than a tiny swatch of that immense canvas on which God works. And therefore I would urge Fry to reconsider his assertion that the suffering of the world -- even the most horrific and seemingly unjustified -- is necessarily without meaning.

Imagine that one page of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was torn away and allowed to drift on the wind. Imagine that that page became further ripped and tattered so that only one paragraph of it remained legible.

Finally imagine that someone who had never heard of Tolkien's rich and multi-layered story came upon that single paragraph. Would it not be the height of arrogance and presumption for that person to declare that those words made not a lick of sense?

Given our narrow point of view, how could any of us presume to pronounce on the "meaninglessness" of what happens in the world?

A life beyond this one

A third basic observation I would make to Mr. Fry is this: once we grant that God exists, we hold to the real possibility of a life beyond this one. But this implies that no evil in this world, even death itself, is of final significance.

Is it terrible that innocent children die of wasting diseases? Of course. But is it finally and irreversibly terrible? By no means! It might in fact be construed as an avenue to something unsurpassably good.

The best rejoinder to Fry's objection is a distinctively Christian one, for Christians refer to the day on which Jesus was unjustly condemned, abandoned by his friends, brutally scourged, paraded like an animal through the streets, nailed to an instrument of torture, and left to die as "Good Friday."

To understand that is to have the ultimate answer to Job -- and to Stephen Fry


Fr. Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and is the rector/president of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. Learn more at www.WordOnFire.org