I love Stephen Fri. I think most people do. I grew up laughing at his sketches and witty observations. I am also in awe of his intelligence. How can he know so much about so many things? Therefore, when he says things about God that I disagree with and says them with such contempt and disdain I find it a bit tricky. Anyway, here are some of his comments about philosophy and God along with the responses that came to me as I heard him speak.
The challenge: I think he starts by saying that the best thing about philosophers is that they raise a large number of questions. “the ones I value.. don’t offer a code or standard by which to live your life or a philosophy to follow, they simply raise an enormous number of questions…”
My thoughts : Questions are a big part of philosophical inquiry but to ask the question surely means you are looking for an answer and indeed think or hope that there can be an answer. The answers are the really important bit with the questions a means to an end. Asking questions for the sake of it seems pointless. Philosophers ask in order to get correct answers. Therefore philosophy should be seen as an attempt to get answers and fruitful, useful, valuable philosophy, one that supplies them (or at least exposes false ones). I think we do need a philosophy of life. In fact we need and should search for the philosophy of life.
The challenge : “The most important philosophy is that even if it isn’t true you must absolutely assume there is no after life” because it will make you work hard and focus in this life.
My thoughts : But that view could equally well lead someone to do nothing in this life because it will come to nothing. I guess it depends on what other “philosophical” views you hold to rub together with the conviction that “there is no after life”. For me it seems like investigating and thinking about the question of whether there is or is not an afterlife would be time well spent rather than assuming there is none and living in the light of that. The answer to that question would probably have a great bearing on how you live this life.
The challenge: “If I were to believe in God I would believe in gods. I think monotheism is the really ghastly thing.” You can see how people might think there is a god, or personification of the essence of the sea or the sun or war and lighting, but not one god behind it all. Also if there are gods then the Greeks got it right in that they would be capricious and nasty. If God is behind the beauty of creation isn’t he also behind the parasitic worm in the sheep’s eye?
My thoughts: I think one God who exists in trinitarian plurality makes more sense of the diversity and unity in the world. A biblical world view says God created everything good and then rebellion against him brought evil into the world. God’s glory is in his restoring and redeeming the world rather than keeping it perfect from beginning to end.
Did God create parasites and cancer and call them good? I guess there is the philosophical point that if we take a good God out of the equation we lose the concept of evil but if we hold to the the notion of a God who is good we at least have a basis for evil in it’s opposition to God and therefore goodness. Jesus saw sickness as an enemy and not from God. The root of all evil then must be in something other than God and the bible says it came from rebellion against God.
The challenge: “We don’t say that which I cannot understand I will call God, which is what mankind has done historically…as we understood more God receded…he’s barely anywhere, just in those things which we don’t understand”.
My thoughts: I agree a God of the gaps is a rather flawed and flimsy view of God; a partial, camouflaged view of him as if he was hiding behind some tall grass. But the bible does not describe a God of the gaps but a God who is behind everything, not just the things that we have not described in some measure. The word “understand” often hides a lot of ignorance. Just because we understand something about an object or event does not mean we have an exhaustive understanding. For me the more I have seen and understood of the world around me the more I realise how little I do know. The questions and the “gaps” become bigger, not smaller…I see God behind quantum physics and God behind the origin of life. I see God’s hand in the genetic code and machinery of the cell and God’s hand in the events of human history. I see God’s hand in the miraculous and God’s hand in law of gravity.
The challenge : “If there are gods they are certainly not all loving, I mean really it’s just not good enough”
My thoughts : Is the existence of an all loving god incompatible with a world in which there is pain and suffering? That is the key question. Here are some others: What if there was a God who made the world good and in rejecting him it went bad. What if this God stepped into the world and endured the worst of the consequent physical, emotional, relational and spiritual pain in order to draw out the poison and make everything infinitely and eternally better than it ever was before? What if healing and restoring and comforting and making long term safe the lives of millions would cost God all that was most dear to him and he did it? What if the best most lasting most wonderful way to help those damaged by evil was to take on evil and defeat it himself through his own agonising death? What if the rebellious root of the evil within us could only be pulled out as we trust in God’s grace and goodness to us?
Would these things begin to give us some grounds for saying that God was loving or that he “so loved the world that he sent his one and only, precious, beloved son”? Or would that still be simply not good enough? (I’m not sure the term “all loving” is a biblical one. He is perfect “love” but he is not just “love”. He is other things as well. The term must be filled with biblical data not our own thoughts). I suspect that there is something in the fullness and perfection of his love that is shown and displayed and realised in the massive self sacrifice of the cross.
The question “if God is all powerful and all loving then why is there suffering?” is a good one and not one I can answer easily. The terms take a lot of defining for a start. But I do think that looking at what God is recorded as having done in Jesus on the cross goes a long way towards answering the question behind the question which is often “I’m hurting and want to know why God is not helping”.
There are many “why questions” I can’t answer. There are even prayers at times of crisis that seemed not to be heard. But because of the cross I do know some things for sure:
1) Though I did not deserve help from God, and in fact disaualified myself from his help, he helped me anyway, at massive personal cost to himself.
2) If Jesus did die for me, and I know he did, then God’s love for me is so great that I can trust him with anything. What would he hold back from me if he has already given me so much?
3) Though he may not always remove the pain he helps me bear it and will bring me through safely.
For me the cross of Jesus is good enough.