Monday, February 09, 2015

By Special Request

Stephen Fry’s little burrowing friend ...
Probably to his regret, in the process of trashing the Christian God comedian Stephen Fry ran into the logic buzzsaw that is libertarian Vox Day.

Fry was doing an interview for an Irish television show called The Meaning of Life. When asked if he thought he would get to heaven (Irish interview shows apparently ask more intelligent questions than their American counterparts), he decided to pontificate on the character of God.

Fry told his interviewer:
“I wouldn’t want to get in [to heaven] on [God’s] terms. They’re wrong.

The God who created this universe (if it was created by God) is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish. We have to spend our lives 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 life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. Why? Why did you do that to us? It is simply not acceptable. Atheism is not just about not believing there’s a god but, on the assumption there is one, what kind of God is he? It’s perfectly apparent that he is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever.”

A Christian Rejoinder

Day declined to let Fry’s blathering stand without a Christian response:
“Now, for those whose knowledge of theology does not rise to the level of the Narnia novels, let me point out that basic Christian theology points out that while God’s Creation was initially perfect, it was His choice to give both Man and Angel free will that permitted Lucifer’s initial fall from Heaven, and Man’s subsequent fall from Grace. From these two failures entered in every form of sin, death, and evil.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ himself made it very clear that it is not the Creator God who rules the Earth. Hence his command to Christians to be IN the world rather than OF it. He specifically refers to Satan as both the prince and the ruler of the world, as one translation has John 12:31: The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.

Fry is clearly blaming the wrong party.”
Quite so.

The exchange has me thinking about the efficacy of prayer. If that seems like a little off-topic, those who know me personally will be aware that I’m currently going through a pretty tough time and have found myself again and again cast on the Lord for his help with events I cannot control, with the minds of those I love, and with my own heartrate. If you’ve wondered why we’re recycling some older posts the last week or so, that’s why.

Who’s In Charge?

But what Vox Day says rings true with me in times of trouble. Unlike Stephen Fry, I am disinclined to turn around and point the finger at God when things go wrong. He is not to blame for the current state of my life, nor is he to blame for the selfish, willful decisions made by individual humans. Every sad, evil act I have encountered in the last couple of weeks has its proximate cause in the will of created beings, not the creator God that Fry disparages and calls “monstrous”.

God is also not to blame for the state of fallen creation and the current world order. When Satan took the Lord Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and said, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me,” you notice that the Lord did not reply, “It’s not yours to give”. That the kingdoms of the world were Satan’s to offer was never the subject of debate.

What did creation look like before Satan went to work on it? I can’t tell you, but if in the millennial reign of Christ a lamb will sleep safely beside a wolf, I am confident the animals in the garden of Eden were not carnivorous. Whence “nature, red in tooth and claw” then? Not a product of the Creator I know. Creation is warped, twisted and groaning, and if a spiritual agency is the cause, it is not the One who spoke it into existence. Fry’s eye-burrowing insects are indeed the product of a monstrous mind.

No, Satan rules this world and the rest of us, to one degree or another, have bought in to his program. Many of us do his work almost as efficiently as if he were to do it himself. 

The Efficacy of Prayer                   

This is where prayer comes in, doesn’t it. If Satan is temporarily enthroned in this sphere, God is forever enthroned in heaven. Rather than engage himself in fine-tuning the genetics of nature’s monstrosities (as Mr. Fry would have it), our Lord is waiting to hear from his saints. Because despite his general hands-off policy with respect to the ‘Silent Planet’, God will intervene by special request.

Why encourage us to pray? Because he wants to answer us. In fact, if Daniel’s example is any indication, he may wait to put his plans into action until we do. Daniel, we read, “perceived in the books the number of years that must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem”. In other words, he read scripture, discerned the purpose of God, and prayed for it to be effected in the lives of those in his nation. Did his prayer produce an immediate fix for Israel? No, but an archangel was sent to give him “wisdom and understanding” and to remind him he was loved.

No, not “loved”. The actual line is “greatly loved”. God was not content to leave Daniel wondering whether he had been heard, and he was not content to leave him wondering if his prayer mattered.

Prayer and Causality

And matter it does. James, in his inimitably blunt way, says, “You do not have, because you do not ask”. The Lord himself said “everyone who asks receives”.

For God is responsive, or at least he must necessarily appear so from any human perspective. Some theologians imagine a God of infinite knowledge who, unsurprised by each and every request, has already planned and ordered every possibility. Or they imagine the Calvinist deity by whom the movement of every atom in the universe is individually micromanaged. But that sort of passive, unemotional super-organization is not what you crave when you have a lump in your gut the size of your fist and you’re wondering if your loved one will make it through the night. That determinist theology doesn’t easily coexist with the turbulence in which we often pray, where circumstances are so painful that we can’t even clearly describe what we’re asking for and have difficulty uttering a coherent sentence.

When we suffer, we need a God who is compassionate and responsive, not just hyper-efficient.

The Spiritual Machine

Perhaps the Calvinists are right, and perhaps in heaven it is all spiritual machinery, but that is not how the scripture describes it. In fact it specifically says that we do NOT have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Or let me quote the KJV, which puts it rather beautifully: He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”. It is well established theologically that the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of God, but while Stephen was dying, he saw Jesus Christ on his feet, standing. The sight of his servant in deep distress moved the One under whose feet everything will be one day to rise. The gesture was all for the benefit of Stephen, I assure you. The Lord has no need to stand up to get a better look.

Our God may endlessly anticipate and perfectly plan, but he also actively responds. And though Satan is enthroned in this sphere, our Saviour is always prepared to intervene.

But only by special request.


  1. "When we suffer, we need a God who is compassionate and responsive, not just hyper-efficient."

    Yea, that!!!

  2. Here's the money quote from Fry:

    "Atheism is not just about not believing there’s a god but, on the assumption there is one, what kind of God is he? It’s perfectly apparent that he is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever.”

    Fry joins a long list of atheists who are not atheists because their pure and logical thinking has led them regrettably to unbelief. Rather Fry admits unashamedly that he is seeking a sort of revenge - against a God he thinks both cruel and capricious - by denying God the respect Fry imagines God craves.

    Fry (like so many of his peers) isn't really driven by cool dispassionate logic - instead he's motivated by a judgmental and rebellious spirit that will not submit to God until God conforms to Fry's warped sense of justice. CS Lewis wrote brilliantly about this attitude in "God In The Dock":

    “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock... the trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.”