British comedian Stephen Fry is in a bit of trouble in Ireland because of his answer to a question about what he would say to God at the gates of heaven. He replied, “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” According to the BBC report, he indicated a preference for the Greek gods who “didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent”, adding “the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”
You might know Fry for his role as Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s valet, which he performed in the television adaptations of the stories written by P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975). Let us address his complaints in three parts beginning with his last point. His characterization of the mythological Greek gods is misleading. The Greeks did not present all the gods as virtuous to be sure but the gods are the definition of capricious and arbitrary. It was precisely because the gods could be so arbitrary and capricious that pagans were so solicitous and superstitious.
His objection, that he refuses to believe because the Creator “is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish” is a classic Gnostic objection. This essentially the way they characterized the God of the creation narrative in Genesis 1–2. More broadly, they characterized the God revealed in the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures as a demiurge, “a heavenly being, subordinate to the Supreme Being, that is considered to be the controller of the material world and antagonistic to all that is purely spiritual” (Oxford American Dictionary). Underlying that rejection was their belief that the world exists on a scale of being. At the top of the scale is pure, spiritual being. That being, that level of existence, is God and we reach him through the acquisition of secret knowledge of the sort the God of the Hebrews forbade to Adam and Eve. One can see where this is going. Sometimes the Gnostics had it that Satan is the true Son of God and Jesus was a pretender but they always offered divinization (“you shall be as God”) through the acquisition of secret knowledge. The Greek noun γνῶσις (Gnosis) means knowledge hence Gnosticism. The Gnostics were those who had has become “spiritual,” who had transcended the level of existence experienced by the Christians (καθολικοί) and the merely carnal (ψυχικοί). When Fry attacks God as a “maniac” and “selfish” he is not only echoing the Gnostics but also the one who insinuated to Eve that Elohim (אלהים) was holding out on her:
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (ESV; Gen 3:4–5).
Satan alleged that God knew that Eve could know, that Eve had the potential to be equal to God and that God, fearful of losing his place, was unjustly subjecting her. The Evil One said that he had the secret knowledge and all Eve had to do to receive it is to enter into a covenant with him, to pledge loyalty to him rather than to Elohim. The structure of this argument still exists. Have you ever wondered why the financial gurus, who are offering to sell you to the secret to quick and easy wealth, are so willing to sell that secret so inexpensively? Why are they offering to sell it at all? Why do they not use it themselves? In fact, the truly rich do not go about selling secrets to wealth because there is no secret. The path to wealth is hard work, a certain degree of risk taking, some good fortune, patience, and frugality. If the Evil One had the power to be like Elohim, why was he slithering around in the garden? Why was he not in heaven? Why did he not dethrone Elohim? He did not because he could not. All he had was to peddle lies.
Finally, comes the complaint, “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery?” The first and greatest problem with his objection is that, according to the Christians, God did not create a world with such misery. We did. Stephen needs read Genesis 1 again. Verse 10 says, “And Elohim saw that it was good.” Verse 12 says, “And Elohim saw that it was good.” Verse 25 says, “And Elohim saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:27 says:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them (Gen 1:27; ESV).
Verse 31 says: “31 And Elohim saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
The Biblical narrative is that creation was inherently good, that God is good, and that we were made in his image, in, as the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) says, “in righteousness and true holiness.” We were placed in a beautiful and holy garden. There was no corruption, not even covetousness (which Rome calls concupiscence) in the garden or in us. We had the potential not only to remain good, holy, and righteous but to enter into a state of eternal blessedness to enjoy unending communion with God and with one another if only we pass one test: to love God above all and neighbor as self by naming the Evil One as a liar. Remarkably, we failed to do that one thing, which was utterly within our power to do. Elohim had said to us that the moment we broke this covenant, “you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). We did. It was we who introduced death and corruption into the world. When God pronounced sentence he was only recognizing what we had done. The pain and misery that followed our sin was our fault, not God’s.
How do I know that the biblical explanation for why things are as they are is not just like the silly Greek myths, another ancient and foolish explanation of things to be rejected by modern, Enlightened reasonable people? Because Jesus of Nazareth said so. He was utterly good and righteous. He confronted the very same Evil One and, unlike us, he resisted (Matt 4) and defeated him (John 12:32) even at the cost of his own life. He affirmed the reality of the creation narrative and named the Evil One what he is: the father of lies (John 8:44). Jesus’ true humanity is the Christian response to the Gnostic lie about the nature of things. There is no ladder to God. There is no continuum between God and man. God is the Creator and we are the creatures. Jesus came as true God and true man, the image of God and the one in whose image we were made. The Jewish and Roman authorities handled his true, good humanity. They mocked it. They tortured it. They crucified it. They buried it but God raised him from the dead and he is coming again.
In his rant, Fry omits and distorts much but his greatest omission is Jesus of Nazareth, who gives the lie to everything that Satan said and all that Fry repeated. Jesus did not grasp equality with God (Phil 2:6) not shake his fist at God. Rather, he cried out “Why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1; Matt 27:46) in true, righteous anguish. He laid down his life voluntarily, as a substitute even for thieves, murderers, and blasphemers like Stephen Fry. I know, he died for me and I was chief among them. Do not call down judgment upon Fry. Pray for him. He is raging against his own conscience. There will be time enough for judgment.