by the Reverend Dr. David Sinclair
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
On Thursday of this past week I intended to sit down to prepare a sermon on the theme of ‘healing and wholeness’, but I wasn’t feeling well enough! It can come across as a bit of an irony, actually, until we remember that we would never thinking of talking about healing and wholeness if we were not so brutally familiar with illness and with disintegration.
Isaiah writes these words of hope and re-creation in a world beset by all the things that seem to militate against any such positive talk – and that’s why he writes it; that’s why we speak it; that’s why we wait for it, because to do anything else is to wallow in self-pity or to cower in self-loathing.
Because the biblical understanding is clear that, even though we give thanks to God for the creation of which we are a part, we know that within that creation there is suffering and injustice, there is pain and agony, there is disease and there is dis-ease. It is part of the condition of creation that death comes, and comes often when we do not expect it, when we fail to prevent it, even when we actually cause it. And, in the midst of all that we look for the renewing of strength, for walking and running, and for eagles’ wings.
And so, on a day when we consider healing and wholeness – and the ever-present need for them – we come to Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry is a highly intelligent, highly educated, highly articulate man, whose command of the language, and of the techniques of rhetoric, are such that once he gets going I suspect he struggles to apply the brakes. On Irish television he says:
“How dare you [God] 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? Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?
The God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him?! What kind of god would do that?
Yes, the world is very splendid but it also has in it insects whose whole lifecycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.
It’s perfectly apparent that he is monstrous. Utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God’?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Isaiah answers those who despair at the brevity of life and the brutality of nature. He does so because Stephen Fry’s outburst is not the result of modern understanding, of European enlightenment, of Western civilization; it is the simple human agony of one who sees a world where the innocent suffer and who wants to rail at the unfairness, the monstrosity, and the seeming maleficence of it all. And there are many places in the bible where the same kinds of things are said.
Start with the words from Psalm 22, spoken – we are told – by Jesus on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And the psalm carries on:
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
And then remember the book of Job, where Job himself says:
Why is light given to one who cannot see the way,
whom God has fenced in?
For my sighing comes like my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water?
Here we have a God who wilfully ignores the suffering of his people; here is found a God who is responsible for the restrictions of life, oblivious to the signs and groans they elicit. Here is a community of faith, writing what are for them words of faith – words which blame God, complain against God, accuse God, of the same kind of things that Stephen Fry finds so offensive.
And it’s worth remembering these biblical words when we look at how religious leaders have reacted to the broadcast.