You may have seen a recent video clip that went viral in which Stephen Fry makes some very stark criticisms of God. I have embedded the clip below this article in case you haven’t seen it. In the clip Fry is answering the question of what he would say to God if he came face to face to with Him after death.
Fry responds by referencing the “theodicy” question, which simply put means “why would an all-powerful God permit (or create) suffering and evil?” Fry proceeds to give a couple of examples of terrible evils, before describing God as “utterly, utterly evil” and as “a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God, who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain.”
I can sympathise with Stephen’s views, and the theodicy question is one that I have spent a lot of time pondering. It certainly seems as though there is horrendous suffering in the world, and if God is all-powerful, which I firmly believe He is, why does He create such suffering?
My response to Fry’s comments takes a bit of explaining, but bare with me and please consider seriously what I have to say. I believe that in order to answer the theodicy question we need to look to God’s own nature, and the way in which God may Himself suffer.
I believe there are two important ways in which God could be said to suffer. Firstly, I believe God is omnipresent. This means God is all that exists. We can expand on this and say, in ultimate terms, God is totally alone. I realise the world contains apparently separate beings, but if God is alone and omnipresent, then we are all expressions of God, controlled and guided by God. Life is like a puppet show, with God in control. I would argue that God creates such a diversity of creatures, including human beings with all our various beliefs and ways of life, because being supremely alone is a kind of suffering and created beings are as close as God can get to experiencing relationship. Might it be true that God experiences a hellish loneliness?
There is another way in which God could be said to suffer. An aspect of God’s nature is existence. This is an existence which is eternal; without beginning or end. God is necessarily alive. For God, there is never an ending. There is no option of suicide. There is no chance to ’switch off’. God must live endlessly even if He doesn’t want to. Why must that be like? Isn’t that a kind of hell?
So we can see that there are several ways in which God might experience hellish suffering or agony. In light of this, we might better understand why God creates such suffering in His creatures. Perhaps God wants to give us a taste of “the real thing”; of what ultimate reality is like for Him. If God experiences both good and evil as aspects of His own being, then why shouldn’t He give us a taste of all this as part of our own lives and deaths?
I’m aware that this view is one that is not compatible with the core beliefs of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), because, unlike those religions, I believe God is in control and therefore we don’t have free will. I have written various articles on this blog about this (e.g. this one).
If you’re interested in my line of thought, I go into more depth about the nature of God and the nature of suffering in my latest book, entitled Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion. More info about the book can be found here.