|Stephen Fry vs. Robert Barron|
Not surprisingly, the finger-pointing began with all the usual accusations about senseless suffering, children with cancer, etc. Fry in his wisdom judges God and finds Him wanting. Bishop Robert Barron (Fr. Barron at the time.) took Fry's comments as an opportunity to address what for many is a challenge to belief in a good God or in any God at all. Why suffering?
Fry isn't the first to accuse God. The problem of pain and suffering fills the pages of the Bible. The Book of Job is an entire course on suffering! And then there are the theologians' and others writing for thousands of years up to today. C.S. Lewis wrote two books on suffering, The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. G.K. Chesterton wrote an introduction to the Book of Job and addressed suffering and evil in many of his works, especially The Everlasting Man. We will continue to wrestle with suffering until we stand before God and receive all the answers to the hard questions. Until then we walk in faith, but certainly not a blind faith.
Stephen Fry posits a capricious God for whom suffering is just a gotcha game. Others, like Rabbi Kushner believe that, while God exists, He's helpless to stop suffering. Which belief is worse? Which offends God more? The atheist in his disbelief or the believer who slanders Him? I wonder.
As believing Catholics (Sadly, there are plenty of Catholics who don't believe.), we know that God is all powerful. Could he stop suffering? Certainly, but at the cost of turning us all into little automatons with no free incapable of inflicting or alleviating suffering -- and incapable of love.
Suffering and all evil in the world is the result of sin, both original and societal sin as well as personal sin. But what about the suffering of the innocent? Who can look without revulsion at the suffering of little ones: cancer, genetic anomalies, conditions that necessitate painful and ongoing treatment, starvation, etc.? Why? is our natural reaction.
But their suffering too is the result of sin which sometimes can be directly attributed to the crimes of people in power. When governments war against Christians or steal the wealth of their people letting them starve, is God to blame? When parents abuse their children or fatherless students murder their classmates did God pull the trigger?
Suffering, no matter the why or wherefore, is heartrending! And we should do everything humanly possible to relieve the suffering of those around us, especially children. But let's put the blame squarely where it belongs -- on us. Very few of us can lay claim to innocence and every sin empowers the lord of the world. When we sin, he reaps the benefit.
And what is the most effective weapon against the evil one? Innocence. Consider this. A child's suffering most resembles the suffering of the innocent lamb who took the sins of a guilty world to the cross. Wasn't Jesus weeping for the innocent children (Think of the Holy Innocents.) when he was sweating blood for them and their persecutors in the Garden of Gethsemane? Didn't he weep for the victims of the Holocaust and every other genocide of history?
Ironically, it's the innocent who seem most noble in their suffering. I think of a little grand niece who, in her short life, has gone through dozens of surgeries and experienced pain that would make an adult groan. I have rarely seen that child without a big smile on her precious face. And after all her experiences she says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. What an example she is to the whiners in life! And there are so many children like her on the wards of children's hospitals and classrooms for the disabled. Why not ask them about their suffering and whether it has meaning. How enlightening those conversations would be.
Now, I'm not a big fan of Robert Barron, but he's a compelling speaker with great savvy for using technology to share the Christian message. I thought this video on suffering was compelling. One especially thought provoking element for me was the comparison of Fry to a person who knows nothing about math who looks at a complex mathematical formula and calls it gibberish or to a person who reads one page from Lord of the Rings describing Frodo and Sam's suffering in Mordor and judges the entire trilogy as monstrous based on that tiny glimpse.
Stephen Fry's rant against suffering is based on ignorance and also, perhaps, on his own disordered lifestyle. He's "gay" and that certainly gives him a big reason to trash Christianity. He also suffers from depression and has attempted suicide. He is a man in pain who refuses the antidote that would save him. I'm praying for him today.
As St. Paul says, we see through a glass darkly. How can we possibly expect to make sense of everything we see and file it in neat little boxes when we see so little of the entire picture. Even Our Lady didn't understand everything and pondered things in her heart. That's an invitation to us as we face the challenges of life.
I'd be interested to hear your opinion of Bishop Barron's video.