Stephen Fry and Suffering

I like Stephen Fry. I find him funny, clever and real. Together my wife and I have enjoyed the eternal series QI, and we have appreciated his honesty as he has spoken about his own struggles with Bipolar disorder. That said, I do not agree with everything he says.

Last Sunday evening Gay Byrne interviewed Stephen on RTE’s ‘The Meaning of Life’. The final question put to Stephen, who claims to be an Atheist, was this:

‘Suppose it’s all true, you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will you say to Him, Her or It?’

In his usual clear and articulate way Fry answered: “Bone cancer in children – what about that? How dare you! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is 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? That’s what I would say.”


Fry’s response has caused no end of discussion and comment, some apparently were shocked and horrified. While I do not level the same charge at God as Fry does, I have often felt like this, if not expressed it. I have asked it when our own daughter was born profoundly deaf. My wife has asked it when her sister, who was born normal, had a number of unexplained seizures that left her permanently brain damaged and with the mind of an infant. It’s the normal reaction when we face suffering – we look for someone or something to blame. In fact what is so shocking about Fry’s response is that he has put into words what we ourselves think but dare not express in words – whatever our belief.

The Reality of Suffering

The reality is live long enough and we will experience suffering. We face it physically through disease and cancer; We face it naturally through earthquakes and floods; We face it through our own choices (poor health care) and we face it through the actions of others like war, rape, stealing and words of anger. We simply can’t avoid suffering and all of us along with Stephen Fry have faced it and deal with it personally.

Now while Stephen Fry is an atheist (Does not believe in the existence of God) it seems a contradiction to charge God with being ‘Capricious, Mean Minded and Stupid’, when he does not believe in him. But that aside lets assume he does, for many people do and wonder why God did create the world like this and why God has not done anything to stop it.

Who is the cause?

So who is the cause of all this suffering? Fry seems to think that the blame lies squarely at the feet of God – after all he made the world! Well before we blame God I think we need to look at our own lives first. In the full interview Fry retold the amusing story of stealing a mans wallet and credit card and assuming his identity and spending his money at liberty. Of course Fry had a great time – but what suffering did it cause the person involved? What were the knock on effects? Yes Fry was sorry – but it explains that we are responsible for vast amounts of suffering in this world. Wars, greed, crime, lies and acts of injustice are all done by one human being to another. Of course I’m no different to Stephen Fry, I might not have stolen a credit card – but I misuse the resources I have, spending money on more food and gadgets while the majority of the world continues to suffer through a lack of food and clean water.

But that’s not the full answer. As a Christian I believe that God created a good and beautiful world and it was given for mankind to enjoy. But through our choices and actions we have rebelled against God and sought to live life apart from him. The result has been disorder and death. The good world is now twisted and broken. We are the spanner in the works. We have caused the cogs in the wheel to grind and crunch and the result is the suffering and pain we see all around us. Yes God has allowed suffering to enter the world but the cause firmly rests with us. One of the authors Fry respects and quoted in his interview was GK Chesterton. Chesterton once answered the question: What is wrong with the world?’ with the simple response; ‘I am!’ If we are to blame anyone we must first look to ourselves.

How is it fixed?

One of the charges against God is that God should clean up the mess he has caused. If God made the world like this then he should fix it. Well history proves that mankind can’t fix the problem. The ongoing conflicts around the world, the worsening humanitarian needs, the natural disasters on the daily news remind us that with all our advancement in technology and understanding we have done very little to alleviate suffering. So we either look to man or we can look to God – even if we do blame him.

If we are to ask God to end all the suffering the obvious conclusion is that he would have to deal with us because we are the cause! If we want a God who is fair and just then we must allow this God to take action and take us all off planet earth and start again. While God is within his rights to do that – it is not the way he has acted. God himself came into this suffering and broken world to redeem this world. He came through the person of Jesus Christ. The proof? His resurrection from the dead! All suffering ends in death and it’s the one reality of life we can do nothing about. The God/Man Jesus Christ defeated death as a sign of a full redemption he will one day bring about.

The Suffering God

Fry levels the charge that God is ‘evil and unjust.’ However the opposite is true. God is a suffering God. He faced injustice, he faced the mental and emotional horrors of being executed at the hands of people like us. He knows what it is to suffer and he is not immune from our suffering. In fact he has done something about it on our behalf. The fact is God loves this broken and disordered world and he loves us.

So what can we do about the suffering? Well we can either push God further away or we can run to God and lean on him. It does not answer all our questions, it does not make the suffering any less painful but it does give us real and lasting hope.

I pray Stephen Fry has the same conversion experience as his mentor Oscar Wilde, who turned back to God on his death bed, only a bit sooner!.