Joshing With God

Joshing With God July 14, 2017

The TLS “Poem of the Week” was James Fenton’s “God, a Poem.” It opens with this complaint to God:

A nasty surprise in a sandwich, 
A drawing-pin caught in your sock, 
The limpest of shakes from a hand which 
You’d thought would be firm as a rock,

A serious mistake in a nightie, 
A grave disappointment all round 
Is all that you’ll get from th’Almighty, 
Is all that you’ll get underground.

The TLS can’t decide whether it’s “a fine blasphemy” (Peter Porter) or something more jocular—“a tongue-in-cheek tiff in which God and man merely squabble over who is the bigger disappointment.”

In some of his writing, Fenton, friend and co-belligerent of the late Christopher Hitchens, expresses Kierkegaardian dismay at the hypocrisies of culture Christianity. And there’s nothing blasphemous about raising doubts about God’s reliability in prayer. David does it, and so does Jeremiah. 

What’s missing in Fenton’s poem, though, is all hint of lament. The tone of Fenton’s poem is as critical as the content. Kierkegaard was satirical, but the satire arose from outrage, believing as he did that he was somehow channeling the outrage of a God that really is. The Bible’s complaints are plaintive, lament poems. 

Fenton finds God trivial and disappointing, but couldn’t be cheerier. If this is blasphemy, it’s blasphemy that has lost all seriousness. It’s not blasphemy. Fenton is joshing with God.

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad