NT Wright, one of the world's leading New Testament scholars,...
If anyone had cause to rail against God it was Oscar Wilde, considering the injustice he suffered in his life and the sad end that befell his glittering career. Yet during his time in prison and at the end of his life, he turned towards God, not away from Him. In light of Stephen Fry's recent anti-God interview, Justin Brierley recorded a video response inviting the TV personality to learn from his literary hero's own view of God. Read and watch Justin's response below.
I saw your video about what, if you met God, you'd say to him - that when you look at all the suffering in the world he's created you'd call him a 'stupid, evil, maniac'.
I'm a Christian and my first reaction was to want to leap to God's defence and fire back five bulletproof arguments about why you're wrong!
But, in fact, I don't think you were offering an argument as such - more an expression of your anger at the way the world is if there's supposed to be a loving God in charge. And that is something we can all share.
So instead of offering a philosophical rebuttal I want to tell you a story instead, a story about God.
You and I probably don’t have much in common with each other, but we do share a mutual love of the literary genius of Oscar Wilde. I know you feel a strong connection with Wilde, but I have something in common with him too. Wilde believed in the same God as me...
I’ve been reading Oscar Wilde’s 'Stories for Children' to my kids recently but I think they’re actually stories for everybody.
My favourite story is The Selfish Giant – I’m sure you know it. And in it I think Wilde grasps the heart of who God is.
At the centre of the story is a garden where children used to play, but because of the giant’s selfishness it’s now winter all year round, and no children come to play.
We now live in the winter world
At the beginning of the Christian story there’s a garden too. However you interpret that story, fundamentally it’s about a world gone wrong from early on because of us, and that is now bent out of shape in all kinds of ways. We now live in the winter world.
Then along comes a child, standing underneath a bare tree in the giant’s garden that it cannot climb into. The giant has change of heart and lifts the child into the tree, and the tree bursts into blossom. From that day on the winter is over and the spring arrives, and children play again in the garden.
But that child whom the giant loves never reappears until the giant grows old. One day during winter (and Wilde adds 'he did not hate the winter now, for he knew that it was merely the spring asleep') the giant sees the child return. The tree is covered in blossoms and gold and silver fruit. Under it is the child:
'Downstairs ran the giant in great joy and into the garden. He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said “Who hath dared to wound thee?” For on the palms of the child’s hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.
“Nay” answered the child; “but these are the wounds of love”.'
A cross and nail prints, the wounds of love, define this God
Wilde recognized that God is not a tyrant who makes the world an evil place. In a world that has been bent out of shape because of us, where winter reigns and the blossoms are few and far between, we have a God who has entered the darkness and borne it himself. A cross and nail prints - the wounds of love - define this God.
'“Who art thou?” said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.
And the child smiled on the giant and said to him “You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is paradise”
And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.'
I know, this does’t necessarily answer your question of why God, if he exists, allows suffering. I think there are reasons for that, but even if I gave you a brilliant explanation its not going to be much use to the parent who has lost their child to bone cancer. However, what may help is knowing that we aren’t alone in a universe where our fate is simply a roll of the dice and suffering is a brute fact that has no ultimate answer.
For people who suffer in all kinds of ways, Oscar Wilde’s God, the God expressed in Jesus Christ who enters our winter world and takes on suffering to bring us the promised spring, may be the one hope that allows them to make sense of the very real suffering they do go through. I even dare to think that world, in which such love can be expressed, is the best one we could hope for.
So Stephen I don’t believe in your God standing guard at the pearly gates, anymore than you do. I do believe in the God of Oscar Wilde. The God who came as a child, and on a tree and with nail printed hands has brought the spring again. That’s a God worth believing in.
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