Recently, we’ve been looking at what we’ve coined as The Stephen Fry syndrome – the idea of hiding behind the views of people more famous/clever/socially acceptable than yourself. Whatever our worldview, it’s easy to lazily hold up as truth things that the glitterati have said, rather than engage with the questions at hand. Below is a prime example of this. It’s one that gets plastered on Facebook and memed all over the internet in different ways. It was said by the wonderfully quintessential Englishman, David Attenborough. So, let’s have a look at what he says and then unpack it a bit.
“I often get letters from people who say I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature. To which I reply and say, well, it’s funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the Almighty, always quote beautiful things. But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in West Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he’s five years old. And I reply and say, well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well. I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action. And therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the morality of this thing.”
Ok, so the main point seems to be that a ‘merciful God’ wouldn’t allow a small boy to suffer in this way. And therefore we’re looking at the classic question of ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?’
First of all, let’s acknowledge the horrendousness of what that small boy is going through. We don’t think it’s good – we don’t even think it’s acceptable. But nor do we think that God causes it to happen. Christians don’t believe that God created a broken world where life would be a bit crappy and then you’d die. It’s broken and crappy because of us.
So much human suffering is down, ironically, to human freedom. Could God remove all suffering? Yes, but he would have to remove all freedom. And you might think a world where we weren’t free to sin or suffer would be the obvious thing to create anyway. But think about it: the freedom that allows a man to slaughter innocent people is the same freedom that allows you to watch your 50″ plasma TV, or drive a sports car, or disbelieve in God. Seriously. There aren’t good people and bad people. There’s free people.
You want God to stop famine? Great – let’s give everything we have to Africa. What are you waiting for?
Furthermore, if you’re an atheist, the situation here for this young lad is bleak. Because for this little boy there is no ultimate hope. He will remain blind, suffer throughout his short life, die and turn to dust. He won’t ‘Rest In Peace’ as we glibly say. He won’t be ‘At Rest’. He will simply cease to exist.
Interestingly, there seems here to be a strange irony at work. Attenborough, who doesn’t believe in God, is blaming God for being unmerciful. But if there’s no God, then the only hope this young lad has is…us. It’s startling that we in the West would hold up this example as an example of a heartless God we don’t believe in, when the reason this lad has no hope is because we have raped the planet so we can have nice GTAV marathons and venti Chai Lattes.
He finished by talking about the morality of it. But on Atheism, by what standard is this situation morally wrong? If we’re just molecules bumping into one another and the only purpose is what we create for ourselves, then why should I care? We’ve talked about morality here, but you only get objective morality once you ground it in God. And once you do ground it in God, you realise that God isn’t cool with this situation either. We know this is wrong because He does.
However, for Christians, the situation is not so futile. We should indeed plough resources into situations like this (Jesus told the rich man to give everything he had to the poor), but we also believe that there is hope in this life for people like this young lad. Jesus changes lives, transforms, forgives, heals. And what isn’t fully redeemed in this life absolutely will be in the next. We believe that, through Jesus, a day will come where suffering is finished, and this young lad can sit on the river bank and drink a Chai Latte in peace.
God’s major hope for you isn’t to have a long, comfortable life. It’s simply to know the transforming and saving love of Jesus.