The Irish radio interview in which Stephen Fry said it was utterly evil of God to create a world where there is so much misery which is not our fault, and two new phrases for me - ‘Churchless Christians’ and ‘Churchless Faith’ - have given me food for thought over the last few days.
In his interview, which has caused quite a storm, Stephen Fry was expressing his personal view about a God who, according to Fry, allows untold suffering in the world. I have to say I have great sympathy for his views.
How can a loving God, in whom I believe, allow such suffering? Traditional religious answers for me are inadequate and to say, “I don’t know”, is the only answer I can give. For some sort of explanation, however, I have to turn once again to the story of Job in the Old Testament who endured terrible suffering to himself and his family.
He argues with God that his suffering is unfair and refutes completely the views of his friends who tell him he has brought the suffering on himself. In the end Job totally rejects the views of his friends and accepts that suffering happens to anyone and everyone - good or bad. He doesn’t get an answer from God but never loses his faith in God, because he recognises and acknowledges that God is greater than our human understanding.
I continue to struggle to understand the untold suffering in the world which is not our fault, but I know that if I lose faith in God because of it I am left floundering on my own.
The phrases ‘Churchless Christians’ and ‘Churchless Faith’ come from an interim summary of a research programme I’ve been reading which considers Christians not engaged in local church congregations in the Highlands and Islands.
It seems, and confirms my own thinking, that many Christians for a variety of reasons are put off the institutional church, and both membership of a church and Sunday morning church attendance no longer sustains them in their relationship with God.
I can sympathise with them. As followers of Jesus we cannot grow in faith on our own, but need the support of others seeking God. Traditional church, whilst still very important, is for me no longer the answer, and we need to consider seriously new ways of coming together to share, help and support one another in our journeys with God. Small groups is one possibility where we can share our faith, our thoughts, our doubts our questions in an open, honest and listening environment without feeling silly, inadequate or wrong.
Whether it be answers we seek to suffering, God, the Church, and more, many of us are searching for answers in a world which is both amazing and also very uncertain. In faith we can journey together, and discover God in whom there is peace and hope.