Fr. Barron on Stephen Fry

Fr. Barron on Stephen Fry February 23, 2015

A kindly reply to a man who, though he says he does not believe in God, speaks as though he is in fact deeply angry at God.  Being angry at God is a perfectly respectable thing to do, as Job demonstrates.  Fry’s main mistake is in not directing the anger at God in prayer, but at the press in pointless complaint. Being furious at somebody you strenuously assert is not there is much sillier than believing in somebody Stephen Fry demands you believe is not there.

Fr. Barron, being a good pastor, directs his reply to the complainer more than to the complaints, which are ancient cries of the human heart.  I’ve always enjoyed Fry’s work, and I’ve always had the sense that he struggles with vast reserves of pain under that cool British wit and reserve.  Now and then, as in that rant, it comes spurting out like lava.  He needs healing, as do we all.  I can’t give him alms for Lent, so I give him mercy for that rant instead and, taking a cue from the book of Job, offering not to give him easy answers like Jobs comforters.  The only answer is the wordless icon of the Word Crucified.  In the end, that’s all the Faith can say about the Problem of Evil (a problem that does not even exist apart from the goodness of God).

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  • The Eh’theist

    Nonsense. Fry answered a hypothetical question posed to him, and he gave his hypothetical response in which he would be angry. Doesn’t make him actually angry.

    Barron’s attempted counterargument reduces to “God knows better, and suffering makes things better than they would be without it.” Yet, there is also the Catholic claim that things will be made even better by eliminating all suffering. Oh, and some Catholics proclaim themselves to be doing good for working now to eliminate suffering, even though it counteracts the suffering that Father Barron claims makes things better. Talk about hedging your bets.

    Perhaps you or Father Barron could kindly elaborate on God’s exquisite concern for the suffering individual, particularly the point that in Job God was quite happy to wipe out Job’s Generic Family #1, then replaced them with Job’s Generic Family #2, and everything’s good, no need for Job to suffer any more.

    • orual’s kindred

      I won’t be able to reply soon after this comment, but the entire second paragraph above seems to be about “things”, which appears to be some catchphrase for some generalized and indeterminate…things. What are these things you claim Catholics claim suffering makes better and are made even better when suffering is eliminated?

      God’s exquisite concern

      I’m not sure what the function of “exquisite” is in that phrase. Is it supposed to somehow contrast with the concern evinced in the term “Generic Family”?

      • The Eh’theist

        I can’t answer the first part of your question, you’d have to ask Mr. Shea or Father Barron, as they are the ones promoting the answer that some suffering makes things “better” (which it must if you believe God works for the greatest good) while I believe that suffering should be viewed with a goal to its elimination.

        As for the second part, would you agree that the Christian view of the afterlife, proposes for the believer a heaven without suffering? Church teaching clearly argues this is better than the current state. So we have teaching on suffering as something included as part of God’s plan and something God eliminates. Setting aside the issue of an immutable God with an unchanging will, and how to square that with a changing view of suffering, let’s move to the third point.

        “Exquisite” seemed the best word to me given the many descriptions throughout Christian history of God’s attention to people, “knowing them” in the womb, Jesus speaking of attention to the sparrow and contrasting it with greater attention to each person he was speaking to. It’s a concept that has been highly touted by the faithful.

        Contrast that with what we see in Job. His family gets no individual treatment, they fill roles like Wise Man #1 in a Nativity play. Then God “restores” things to Job and Generic Family #2 is supposed to make everything better for Job.

        Imagine if your family were taken from you, and then replaced. Saturday Night Live actually did a sketch about this, with New Dad insurance (I don’t think Dan Ackyroyd was inspired by Job, but who knows?) which underlined the creepiness of the idea of replacing a loved one with someone else to fill the “role”.

        Likewise, think about being a member of Generic Family #2. How do you know each morning that today isn’t the day God offers to go “double or nothing” with Satan and your life will end? How do you deal with knowing that your existence is simply to be a “replacement” for the previous family?

        Whatever your view on the literary type of Job, and its theological implications, it should be clear that using it as source material to lessen God’s responsibility for evil while also proclaiming a God who is all-loving and concerned about each individual person results in contradictions that can’t be sustained without explaining away large parts of the book itself.

        • Hezekiah Garrett

          ‘So we have teaching on suffering as something included as part of God’s plan and something God eliminates.’

          No, we actually don’t. The Church absolutely does not teach that suffering is ‘something included as part of God’s plan’. In fact, the Church clearly states something quite different. You seem to want to be an informed and conscientious fellow, why not go find out what the actual teaching is?

          • The Eh’theist

            I’ve elaborated on this point in my reply to Dan F. up above, showing how Catholic theology of suffering necessitates suffering being part of God’s plan. If you can find an error in what I’ve said there I’ll be glad to listen to it.

        • Dan F.

          A couple of nits and perhaps something more substantive – I’ll leave you to decide which are which:

          First off, you keep contrasting the idea that “suffering can lead to good” with the goal of “eliminating suffering” as if they are contradictory ideas. They’re not. Self-evidently we can say that x bad thing that happened to me in the past (or perhaps that I did) now has resulted in y positive characteristic. I tell my kids that they can’t have another cookie just because they dropped the one they had and the dog ate it. Maybe they’ll learn caution and take care the next time. Maybe I’m a bad parent. Whatever. It’s “Character building”. Avoiding dropping the cookie (to stretch my analogy) is also a good thing.

          You’ve also confused “something that God allows” with “God’s plan” when (from a Catholic point of view) they are not the same thing. We believe in free will – the free choice to do good or evil – is allowed by God to enable the possibility of love (both for each other but ultimately for God). Love forced but not chosen is not love at all. Hence God allowing suffering is not the same as saying that God’s plan for us is to suffer.

          Your last few paragraphs are still arguing as if we’re fundamentalists who have to take the book of Job literally instead of understanding it within the context of Hebraic wisdom literature now understood in the light of the New Testament and Apostolic witness. You may have more play with that critique over at the Evangelical channel but it doesn’t feel like much a criticism here.

          • The Eh’theist

            I agree that challenges can be character building. One can learn from mistakes. I don’t label this “suffering”. Having your family destroyed by tsunami or by cancer is rather different for me than being denied a cookie. If you are claiming that cancer and tsunamis are equivalent to the cookie from God’s perspective, then as I’ve asked others, why all the effort to run around alleviating suffering when such an action might be directly interfering with God’s “character building”?

            As for suffering and God’s plan, if one teaches that God intends to perfect us and offering up suffering is one of the means He will use to do so, then the suffering is in fact part of His plan. Otherwise God’s plan for us has changed, which brings a whole other set of theological baggage with it. I’m not saying that God has initiated all suffering, but that Catholic theology makes Him quite happy to make use of it to achieve his ends. Behaviour that would be judged quite negatively in other persons who did the same thing.

            My point with Job is that whether you interpret it as an actual tale, or as a pious story, the lessons it teaches about God are at odds with the claims Catholic theology makes about Him. To try and maintain Catholic doctrine while also offering Job as the answer to the question of suffering (as Father Barron has done) is simply untenable. While you see my pointing out the logical outcomes of the story as fundamentalism, it is actually just showing the gaps between the God of Job and the God of the catechism.

            • orual’s kindred

              I think a lot of what you say here has to do with our discussion above. However, regarding what you said that

              One can learn from mistakes. I don’t label this “suffering”.

              I rather doubt that that’s what Dan F means. Learning per se may not be suffering, but learning is often hard. The tolls can be quite steep, and the consequences of words, actions and events can be far-reaching. Suffering is part of learning.

              Having your family destroyed by tsunami or by cancer is rather different for me than being denied a cookie.

              For you perhaps. For a child, or for someone who is starving, the difference may not be as great. And Dan F was not comparing the two.

        • chezami

          Where did I say “suffering makes things better”? Where did Fr. Barron say that? Documentation please.

          • The Eh’theist

            Going to the article referenced we find:

            “But this implies that no evil in this world, even death itself, is of final significance. Is it terrible that innocent children die of wasting diseases? Well of course. But is it finally and irreversibly terrible? Is it nothing but terrible? By no means! It might in fact be construed as an avenue to something unsurpassably good.”

            It would seem that Father Barron is arguing that the unsurpassable good accessed via suffering makes it “better” than the alternative if suffering were avoided. Given that you cite this article in a positive fashion and recommend it to others, I inferred that you found this answer satisfactory as well. If this inference is unwarranted, I withdraw my statement about you.

            If my inference is correct and you do agree with Father Barron, might you consider responding to my point about Job’s two families and what this could suggest about God’s character?

        • orual’s kindred

          I am afraid that, as others have pointed out, your framework appears to be informed by non-Catholic thought and understanding, so I’m not sure how meaningful my explanations can be. Certainly I’m not the most learned commenter here (and any corrections from my fellow Catholics will be more than welcome)! Still, let me see if I can address at least some of what you said.

          Simply because Heaven can be said to be a state without suffering does not mean suffering is part of God’s plan. Suffering is part of the human condition as fallen beings. Before the Fall, Man as a creature was demonstrably different, because he had not yet damaged his relationship with his Divine Creator. All that changed when the fire nation attacked when Adam and Eve listened to the Serpent and disobeyed the command not to partake of the fobidden fruit. This disobedience damaged their relationship with that Divine Being, which in turn resulted in the current fallen state. The promise of Heaven is that relationship will not only be so completely healed, but utterly renewed that it is more than a return to the pre-fallen state. And as such, it is described as better than what Man has now and can ever have in this life. Now, in the meantime, while suffering must be eliminated when possible, suffering is also a means for people to develop various aspects of their being. This, I’m afraid, is quite different from what you say about suffering being “something included as part of God’s plan and something God eliminates.”

          the issue of an immutable God with an unchanging will, and how to square that with a changing view of suffering

          As mentioned, your grasp of Church teaching about suffering does not seem to be very accurate. And for myself, I’m not sure how an unchanging will is nullified or contradicted by a changing view. A changing thing can change while an unchanging thing remains within a separate unchanging state. Certainly a view change change while an object stays fixed.

          As for your subsequent paragraphs—what you say seems to be so far removed from Catholic thought that I don’t know what response I can give. ‘Wise Man #1’ is not exactly how the Church views the three men who visited the Christ Child from afar. They have important roles in the Nativity. They are part of the wider cultural picture, they have significant interactions with Herod, they are foreigners travelling to see the Son of David, and in them the universality of the Church is hinted at. And, though there are not too many is given into their personal lives, they are viewed as people, not placeholders labeled “Wise Man #1, etc.”

          Not a lot of detail is given about Job’s family either, but they too are more than placeholders in the story. They’re his family. (Does the amount of detail constitute a significant problem to you?) The view you seem to hold is quite utilitarian. If my family were taken from me, I would grieve. If a family would then be so kind as to adopt me, I hope I would give thanks. It’s not impossible that I would, like Job, curse God and the world for the family I lost. I should hope I would view any of this in terms of “replacement”!

          As for the skit, I have not seen it. However, it seems to cast both New and Old Dad Insurance as pieces of disposable insurance, and not Dad(s). And I would say such a view of relationships is rather more than ‘creepy’.

          Regarding your last paragraph, again, the Church’s teachings about God, evil, suffering, and Job are different from what you seem to understand.

          • “All that changed when the fire nation attacked when Adam and Eve listened to the Serpent”

            I see what you did there!

            • orual’s kindred

              Thank you, thank you! *bows*

              (I’m amused that I know enough about a show I’ve never watched to make puns about it in comboxes. Ah the Internet 😀 )

    • Eric

      Hypothetically, if there is in fact a God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, and so on, then it stands to reason He might, just might, “know better”.

      The next part of your rant against Catholic claims/proclamations is so simplistic and unsurprisingly rantish, all I can suggest is that you pick up a Catechism and refute yourself.

      • The Eh’theist

        Hypothetically, if Father Barron is going to claim that some suffering is “better” because it lines up with the will of this hypothetical God, he might offer some clues as to which suffering should be relieved and which should be endured, so that others avoid mistaking them and working to thwart the “higher good”.

        I’ve read the catechism, it contains the same contradiction, and also doesn’t explain how to distinguish one sort of suffering from another. Perhaps you might reread it while considering my point about Job above.

        • Newp Ort

          It’s not a matter of suffering being good or bad in different cases. It is the believer’s response to suffering. One should always try to lessen the suffering of others. But in the case of suffering that cannot be relieved, those who suffer can unite themselves to the lord’s cross.

          • The Eh’theist

            “One should always try to lessen the suffering of others.”

            We can agree on this point.

        • Eric

          Literally, you just ignored my first point. If there is a God with the attributes mentioned above, then he would know better, especially in dealing with our sin (original or actual).

          As for suffering. Are there any examples that come to mind in which you’ve found suffering to be a positive thing?

          Can you tell the difference between say a person plucking out his perfectly good eye and a guy whose legs are sore after a good set of squats? Yeah, so can I. Obviously, things get a bit trickier in various different scenarios. I’d say we should try to alleviate suffering applying the spiritual and corporal works of mercy at all times. The suffering we can’t alleviate, we enter I to as best we can. Do our very best to suffer with them as Christ entered into our suffering. Prayer, fasting, abstinence. All that stupid stuff right?

          I won’t get into Job because you seem to believe your conversing with a fundentalist bible only Christian with one manner of interpretation. That being the literal one.

          • The Eh’theist

            I didn’t ignore your first point, I gave it the weight it deserved, since we’re dealing with an unknown. You neglected to finish the thought, and discuss the other side of the equation. You stated an if, and then expected us to go on and continue the discussion as if you’d proven your point.

            No, I’ve not found suffering to be a positive thing. I have seen people make decisions during suffering that created positive results, just as I’ve seen with no suffering involved. I’ve also seen the make foolish ones, suffering or no. Research shows us that improving people’s lives and reducing suffering tends to lead to better outcomes for them, and for society in general. One may need to endure suffering, but that doesn’t justify imbuing it with unproven blessings.

            • orual’s kindred

              I didn’t ignore your first point, I gave it the weight it deserved, since we’re dealing with an unknown.

              I’m sorry? I thought it was stated as a hypothetical?

          • I have experienced suffering that was sin & that saved my life. When my parents died, I hurt so badly and believed I was supposed to be dead. As a precocious 5/6 year old, I read pill bottles & downed all sorts of concoctions that I thought would make me dead. They made me sick. At the same time, I lived with a cruel minister and his equally cruel family who all delighted in hurting me and anyone else they could. It took all my energy to fight them, to hide from them, to hang on to some semblance of my identity. But in fighting them, I was distracted my own sadness until I was old enough to get help. Years later, I realized that fighting those crazy people had saved my life. Had they been nice, I’d have killed myself.

            There’s much more and I’m in the midst of writing a book about it. But suffering, which I hate, has been of immense value to me. And, like Job, I’ve been angry at God because of the suffering in my life. Also, like Job, when God answers me, when He shows me that He is always with me, always caring for me even when others aren’t, the suffering pales next to His self-revelation. Job doesn’t forget his first family. He’s overwhelmed that God actually answers him. He’s ecstatic that God answers him. When God answers, it’s easy to trust that He has everything, including the suffering, in His control.

            • margaret1910

              Dear, loved as if. I have been there, although it seems I was a little older. I was 12 and 13 when I lost my parents. It is just hard. I hated, then loved my foster family. Then, they showed me, in no uncertain way, that I was NOT part of their family. Really, it still hurts, but I am not writing a book, lol. I love them, and I think they love me. I hated God for years, and am still working through that. May God Bless you. I have some issues with thinking about God being in control of my suffering. Sometimes, I still am so very angry.

              • Be angry and let God know. Keep letting Him know until you get the answer you need. He will answer you. It will probably take time and you may get angrier still. Give your anger to God as if you were a little child giving Him flowers. (Trusting God with your anger is a huge act of faith.) He will do great things for you. I will pray for you and perhaps something on the site for my book will be of use: (http://lovedasif.com/)

            • Lykex

              “When God answers, it’s easy to trust that He has everything, including the suffering, in His control.”

              The keyword of contention here is ‘when.’

              Of course it’s all good when God finally gives you what you asked. I’ve even read Catholic books saying God would never burden someone to the point that their faith breaks (along with a whole lot of other things).

              Yet what’s to happen when you personally feel like you’re at your limit? And what if people just eschew that limit and think your faith is ‘weak’? That you need to strengthen it with more prayer, more rituals, or more self-denial (which in turn only contributes to the suffering along with depressive mood swings)?

              Now I’m very open to the possibility that God may have heard my cries at some points in my life. However, what of the times where I just feel like a hapless mortal who doesn’t know what he’s demanding? (From my experience, the latter mentality is really more self-damaging than self-sustaining.) I’d very much like to change the feeling that I’m somehow just a yapping mutt who’s fed only to the point that he stops yapping but never given the steak he wanted.

              • Be careful not to equate God’s answer with getting what you want. Often, He gives something totally other than what we have requested. It’s not the what, it’s the Who. He gives Himself and that is always so much more than enough.

                The question I’ve had to answer repeatedly is, Do I want it my way or do I want healing? Over and over, I’ve had to relinquish what I was certain I needed, what nay reasonable person needs. And over and over, I’ve been given far more than I ever imagined. Jesus’ promise that those who leave relationships & possessions behind will receive a hundredfold along with persecution has been true for me and so many others. What I’ve often had to leave behind is my conviction that fairness & love would give me what I’m asking for.

                I wanted parents who love me, that was a reasonable request. All children need love. Instead, I got parental-type figures who hurt me and forced me to fight back so that I would survive my own heart-break. Now, years later, I’m finding family I never imagined I’d have. They’re not parents. They’re siblings who love me when I don’t deserve it, though I have no claim on their love, even when I’m least lovable. It hurts. It’s not according to my script. It’s glorious. Their love melts my frozen hearts. It is so much more than I ever imagined or hoped for & exactly corresponds to the longing in my heart. But as recently as six months ago, I didn’t know that I needed such love.

                • Lykex

                  Well as you said, there’s no ‘one-size fits all’ solution to this answer. That’s why I’ve come to doubt even the idea that God somehow ‘knows what you want better than you do.’ It’s certainly not a thought that has ever helped me much in life.

                  I’ve lived over 20 years using that line to tell myself I shouldn’t be upset about being denied. That I should happily make it a sacrifice because something better would be my reward or at least it was supposed to be rewarding enough that I ‘did the right thing.’

                  In reality, I was hardly a martyr. Just a socially awkward fool who acted too much of a curmudgeon for his age. I knew exactly what I wanted but denied it in order to suffer the idea that I was some clueless, sinfully ridden beast and everyone else was the same except I was just more aware. (I don’t believe that anymore for painfully obvious and painfully personal reasons.)

                  I’ll take a God who will give me what I asked and whatever responsibility that might bring over the God of Job who simply uses the suffering of mortals in cosmic wagers because He ‘knows better.’

                  When a CEO knows better than his employees and uses it to just set them aside, people like our Pope decry “Throwaway Culture!”

                  But when our own God is essentially practicing the same thing, He is somehow excused for the exact same reasons that a CEO is being condemned.

                  LOL, whut?

                  • orual’s kindred

                    I knew exactly what I wanted but denied in order to suffer the idea that I was some clueless, sinfully ridden beast and everyone else was the same except I was just more aware.

                    I don’t know what you want. What I do know is that I’m unfamiliar with that idea.

                    the God of Job who simply uses the suffering of mortals in cosmic wagers because He ‘knows better.’

                    Rejoice then! What you describe is not in fact the God of Job 😀

                    When a CEO knows better than his employees and uses it to just set them aside, people like our Pope decry “Throwaway Culture!”

                    If a CEO makes some sort of rationalization to just set aside his employees, I’m not sure how he can then be described as someone who knows better than his employees. Treating people as things is utilitarian and unjust, and which the Pope decries as part of a ‘Throwaway Culture.’

                    But when our own God is essentially practicing the same thing

                    He does not.

                    LOL, whut?

                    I find that this sort of comment does no service to those that employ it.

                    • Lykex

                      There are certain segments of the Catholic population who practically worship the spirituality of self-denial. After so many years of abusing myself with this mentality, I can verily say that I’ve been led to a well that has been poisoned.

                      Whether you’re immune or actually gaining from this poison is irrelevant. It’s just not for me anymore. I formally reject the idea of a God who ‘knows what’s good for me’ because I’ve allowed entities aside from myself to decide what was best for me. It brought only more grief, more hopelessness, and a hypocritical experience of false promises.

                      This was supposed to better me? The only improvement came after I rejected this self-denying spirituality. If anything, indulgence is my salvation when the alternative is despair that spits upon the promises of faith.

                      P.S.

                      I’m afraid you don’t seem to offer proof on why God is different from the CEO. A CEO looks at the balance sheets, sees the company losing money, and starts making cuts that has everyone in protest. His justification? He saw that he knew better.

                      God looks at the intricacies of the world, sees an unseen ‘problem,’ and then allows the dogs of hell in order to have it fixed. His justification? He saw that He knew better.

                      Sounds the same to me.

                    • orual’s kindred

                      There are certain segments of the Catholic population who practically worship the spirituality of self-denial.

                      There are countless Catholics who in practice worship something other than God. That would be called idolatry, which indeed is poisonous and should be shunned for the sin that it is.

                      I formally reject the idea of a God who ‘knows what’s good for me’ because I’ve allowed entities aside from myself to decide what was best for me.

                      With respect, rejecting any idea on the basis that you, as you say, “have allowed entities aside from [your]self to decide what was best for [you]” is not fair, and it is not logical.

                      I’m afraid you don’t seem to offer proof on why God is different from the CEO.

                      I tend to not immediately offer proofs against false statements based on misunderstandings and subjective ideas. I tend to first point out that such statements are false and are based on misunderstandings and subjective ideas. I try to assume good faith on the part of people I converse with, and try make sure that I understand what they’re saying. For instance, statements such as

                      A CEO looks at the balance sheets, sees the company losing money, and starts making cuts that has everyone in protest. His justification? He saw that he knew better.

                      seems to me an assumption that speaks more to subjective perception than reality. Some CEOs might not even look at balance sheets before making cuts. Some might not make any justification when they make cuts. Some might just say ‘Because I said so, and that’s it.’ Some might say they ‘know better than their employees’–a vague explanation that employees can ask an elaboration for. The CEO may then give or withhold such elaborations. Some CEOs might immediately give a justification that is unreasonable. Some might give a reasonable explanation that just happens to be unpopular. Some might say, ‘By definition, my reasons are unknowable to you. Trust me when I say that they are good.’ However, you pick one specific scenario, and apply it not only to CEOs in general, but to the God that you claim to reject. And that one scenario rather conveniently aligns with your subjective view of that God, and which I note that you insist on without proof.

                      God looks at the intricacies of the world, sees an unseen ‘problem,’ and then allows the dogs of hell in order to have it fixed. His justification? He saw that He knew better.

                      And this seems like an assumption so pulled out of thin air that it hardly even makes sense. “God sees an unseen problem”? Unseen by who? God? Your following statements indicate that you accept that He does see and that He did in fact see. Unseen by others (humans presumably)? Does this make you an exception? If not, then I don’t know how you saw problem seen only by God, and I don’t know what it is that you can be objecting to.

                      But perhaps you are saying that you can see what others (the rest of humanity, perhaps) do not. I’m not familiar with this sight you claim to possess. I certainly have no such ability. And if you are indeed privy to some extrasensory perception, it would seem that there are things that you know better than others. How different are you from the divine entity you reject?

                    • Lykex

                      The rejection is unfair? I guess you’re of the belief that doing the same thing expecting different results isn’t insanity.

                      I’ve allowed other people to interfere with my life with their opinions and beliefs on what’s best for me. Someone’s vague notion of ‘God’s will’ is nothing but another label for this tired, repetitive intrusion. Too long have I had others help me when I should’ve been helping myself. If the Christian God intends to give me help I didn’t ask for, He should at least have the decency to explain Himself instead of constantly belittling his mortal creations by flouting His own Vastness.

                      Secondly, the scenario you deem to be without proof is this one:

                      ‘By definition, my reasons are unknowable to you. Trust me when I say that they are good.’

                      And contrary to your claim, it’s certainly the argument of Fr. Barron. Therefore, it’s not really me creating a God that is without proof. It’s the apologist!

                      Finally, you are wholly misinterpreting my comment of seeing the unseen. Given the argument of God’s omniscience, it’s often used as an excuse for the problem of suffering. This is the story of Job in a nutshell.

                      This is why I have a problem with it. “God: I know things you don’t so just deal with it and trust me. Kthxbai.”

                    • orual’s kindred

                      I guess you’re of the belief that doing the same thing expecting different results isn’t insanity.

                      I’m of the belief that results need to be traced back to the causes that brought them about. I’m of the belief that blame should not be assigned based on convenience or preference.

                      Someone’s vague notion of ‘God’s will’

                      is not to be taken as a standard, which, interestingly, you continue to do. You consider it to be the actual truth, which you then further embellish with your own ideas. You do so in that same paragraph. If you lived by other people’s false ideas, then you must reject other people’s false ideas. You cannot then act as if the false idea is the actual truth.

                      Secondly, the scenario you deem to be without proof is this one:

                      ‘By definition, my reasons are unknowable to you. Trust me when I say that they are good.’

                      I listed that as one possible scenario (among many) involving CEOs making company cuts. And what I said was that you insist on holding to the other scenario, that of CEOs making vague explanations for their actions. I also said that you insist on it without proof. And again you demonstrate that you insist on applying your preferred ideas of what a CEO is and does to God you say you reject.

                      And just to note, by definition, an omniscient God will act upon reasons that are unknowable to finite creatures. By definition, a good God will have good reasons. If you dispute that the Christian God is omniscient, or that the Christian God is good, that is your disputation, and you keep making it as if it were some unquestionable matter.

                      Finally, you are wholly misinterpreting my comment of seeing the unseen… it’s often used as an excuse for the problem of suffering.

                      And we’ve already established that it’s a false excuse. It is not the story of Job. Yet you continue to act as the false excuse were an actual teaching.

                    • Lykex

                      Where did I assign blame based SOLELY on convenience? I assure you the logical trace of my own personal disasters will lead you straight to the idea of letting something outside of myself (INCLUDING the idea of some higher power) knows what’s in my best interests better than I do.

                      And if you’re going to concede that such and such are false ideas on the premise of other people presenting them, why then are you wasting your time arguing with me? I know I was led into a poisoned well so why then should I continue to believe that my own suffering is somehow not something I should strive and even demand God to eliminate? Why should I listen to you any more than any other religious person?

                      Lastly, enough with the finite creatures argument. That is EXACTLY what I meant when I say “God sees unseen problem and therefore we must just grin and bear it.” Saying that is really no different than the CEO giving some vague reasons for the cuts. (Not to mention it’s served as religious ammo for dehumanizing acts in the name of a particular faith.)

                    • orual’s kindred

                      Where did I assign blame based SOLELY on convenience?

                      Where did I say you base it solely on convenience? I also mentioned preference.

                      And if you’re going to concede that such and such are false ideas on the premise of other people presenting them, why then are you wasting your time arguing with me?

                      I saw your comments about your experiences, and I saw your comments about God, or at least this idea of some deity you seem to have. I saw your comments about how wrongly you were treated, about how you suffered, and I thought to speak with you as a fellow creature who has suffered and continues to suffer. I have also been trying to tell you about actual Church teaching as opposed to those false ideas you were exposed to. I have done so because the Truth is something different from false ideas. The Truth is real, good and beautiful, worth discussing, and worth arguing about with people who are unaware, hesitant, unconcerned, or in opposition. I also thought you were worth discussing it with, not the least because of the falsehoods you’ve encountered.

                      the finite creatures argument

                      As to that, I gave definitions. You’ve made and continue to make the same unsupported claims, such as the rest of that last paragraph.

                      Why should I listen to you any more than any other religious person?

                      You went to this blog post and talked about your experiences with religion and religious people. Commenters here then replied, not only empathizing with your experiences, they have also agreed with you on certain points. However, because I refuse to agree with false and unsupported claims, you now ask why you should bother listening. This demonstrates an unwillingness to engage in an actual, honest conversation. I sympathize with you for what you’ve gone through, but as long as you refuse to consider the possibility that there is something other and better than the false ideas you claim to reject, this discussion can go no further.

                    • Lykex

                      I’m only repeating myself here. The only thing I reject is the notion of a God who denies me by claiming to know better than I do. Such ideas have only proven harmful to my life. My parents hammered those ideas into me and now come to regret it. I’ve got friends who’d rather see me be a Genghis Khan than another emasculated dork. Do forgive me if I have a spiritual allergy to anything that attempts to wrest that control away from me (again).

                      P.S.

                      Are you suggesting that the finite creatures argument isn’t structured in a way that’s mean to de-power humanity as an excuse for lacking or unwanted divine intervention? Even if you’ve been repeating that, you still haven’t explained HOW.

              • PS: Ignore those people who “just eschew that limit and think your faith is ‘weak’? That you need to
                strengthen it with more prayer, more rituals, or more self-denial.” Too often they are like Job’s friends. There’s no easy, one-size-fits all response. All you can do is engage with God. Hang on to Him like a bull dog and be importunate. All the while, remember, your yapping is an enormous act of faith. God is listening & you may not be doing badly. Sometimes life is hard.

              • orual’s kindred

                Yet what’s to happen when you personally feel like you’re at your limit?

                What happens then is that you personally feel like at your limit. For myself, I ask God for help (which I do even when I’m not at my limit because I am weak), and try to muddle through.

                And what if people just eschew that limit and think your faith is ‘weak’?

                I will admit that I am not familair with this kind of attitude. It certainly does not follow Church teaching. If I were indeed to encounter people who say and think such things, I hope I would pray for them, carry my cross, and follow Christ. That is what I am called to do. As for those people, they are not God, and what they think are not Church teachings.

                I’d very much like to change the feeling that I’m somehow just a yapping mutt who’s fed only to the point that he stops yapping but never given the steak he wanted.

                I admit as well that I know and am at peace with knowing that many of the steaks that I want are not good for me. I can’t even rightly call them steaks. And I have been blessed with far, far better than what I want or deserve. There also are blessings which I yearn for and which are denied to me (for all my life on this earth, it would seem). And my want remains. I also want to change that feeling, or get rid of it; either way I want to no longer to have to deal with it. Yet I cannot look to God or the world to get what I desire. As other, wiser people here have said, there is no easy answer.

                What we can do is to become more like Christ, which we are called to do. And by becoming more like Christ, we can so change as to change even those wants and feelings. Of course, there is no guarantee that that will happen soon, or easily, or completely. Rather we are told that we will have to deal with our wants and feelings until we die; and we will have to suffer until after Purgatory.

                I don’t want to suffer. However, if the alternative is to indulge, then I hope I always choose suffering. I try, and my efforts are nowhere near perfect. I sin in so many ways. I can only take comfort and strength in that Our Lord suffered as well, and that so many Saints suffered as well. And this same Lord promises us union with Him, in an everlasting life in Heaven where we will feast in Our Father’s House, and our tears will be wiped away. This is the hope offered to us, the hope we are called to strive for, and our hope is in Him.

        • merengue

          Alice Von Hildebrand gave a talk on suffering in which she spoke of unnecessary suffering. It addresses your question. Ultimately, suffering is a mystery, a mystery whose answer can only be discovered in the cross.
          What we can say about suffering is that it is necessary to any imaginably good and finite existence. If the highest form of happiness is love (it is), it follows that the loss of love would bring about suffering. The real question is “why create finite beings at all?”; the answer to which is wrapped in the mystery of Divine Love.
          Thankfully we are not like other animals, and our telos is not based upon the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. With that understanding, we can find meaning in our suffering, which again leads us to love.

          • The Eh’theist

            My point would still be to ask Ms. Von Hildebrand, or Father Barron or whomever, by what measure they distinguish the necessary from unnecessary suffering? Otherwise one might be working to eliminate suffering that has is to perfect someone contrary to God’s intention.

            I’m also cautious about the linking of suffering with love. I’ve known of more than one case where an abuser proclaims loudly to all who can hear the love held for the victim, and how that love leads to frustration and anger. I think we’re much better off with an understanding of love that moves to eliminate suffering, rather than make use of it for some unknown purpose.

        • Sue Korlan

          A priest once told me that the suffering we endure because of our faith is the suffering God wants us to endure because it is taking up the cross. All other suffering is due to sin. Although writing this helps me realize that even the suffering due to our faith is the result of sin, just not as directly. So much for an easy answer.

    • MarylandBill

      I think I would argue that as a Catholic, I believe that it is impossible to eliminate suffering. That being said, that does not mean it is not Christian to work to reduce or even eliminate it in particular cases. Further, part of Father Barron’s point was that God is so far above us, we can’t even know what good God might be achieving by allowing suffering. Perhaps the very good he is trying to achieve is to encourage people to reach out to others.

      Regarding Mr. Fry’s “hypothetical” answer, I would note that he doesn’t sound like he would be willing to give God a chance to explain himself. I think it is fair to say that if he is not mad at God directly, he is mad at the idea of a transcendent good God.

      Finally, I hope you realize that it is generally accepted that the story of Job is just that a story.

      • Lykex

        For people, particularly those a little too obsessed with the topic of demonic influence, Job’s story ISN’T just a story. It’s a literal account of Satan causing suffering because “God allows it.” It’s like their biblical evidence to justify the idea that Satan can still cause harm to human beings who haven’t been to Confession.

        I bought this for a while but when things in my own life just didn’t get any better (got WORSE actually), I stopped. Call it misguided but my personal discernment has me believing that this just cannot be how things work. (That and it made me into a quasi-superstitious crab.)

        How can my faith teach me about easing the pain of others yet command me to accept that which Satan throws in my face (and even perpetuate it) all for the glory of a God who doesn’t seem to care?

      • The Eh’theist

        I think it would be fair to say that if there were an entity calling itself God and claiming to be all-good, Mr. Fry would be angry with it. Since he doesn’t actually believe in the existence of such a being, he would not be angry with God as such, but might harbour some upset with those who claim his existence.

        I also understand that Job can be interpreted as just a story. If this is the case then it is rather cold comfort to be offering those suffering real tragedy in their lives, given that it proposes such simple remedies to suffering as I’ve noted elsewhere.

  • Michaelus

    Well I guess as soon as Fry stopped believing in God he stopped suffering. I wonder if this was before or after his suicide attempt a few years ago.

  • anna lisa

    Mark, I really want to thank you for writing about your “little epiphany” last week. I immediately forwarded it to my oldest children, but didn’t get around to reading it to my husband until yesterday. He was so moved by it, and really appreciated it’s well ordered clarity.
    –Yes, only the lamb who was worthy to open the seven scrolls can shed light upon the mysteries that baffle men, and the pilgrimage we are on.

    I also (a little too smugly!) forwarded it to my Jesuit friend who flippantly called me a Marcionite after I described the OT saying, “it’s like they could hear the song, but didn’t get all of the notes right”…

    Regarding Mr. Fry, –sometimes my teens/twenty-year-olds get a bit testy about the suffering of this world too. I remember one particular moment when my oldest was in a true crisis and was really mad at God, –but even in *that* moment he wouldn’t *agree* with the idea, that he would rather have been dropped off *inside* the pearly gates, instead of learning how to fight the good fight in this world. Just the mere idea of that offended his manly spirit!

    –It would be like showing up at a party without a gift, and demanding breakfast in bed without bothering to get to know who was throwing the party, or why he was throwing it at all. (I know a couple of teens who still partially wish it worked that way…!)

  • Irksome1

    If God is God, then He cannot be the just object of any anger. Therefore, if Stephen Fry were to direct any of his anger towards God in prayer, he’d be guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    • wineinthewater

      God has shown Himself quite willing to take on unjust anger for our benefit.

      • Irksome1

        That God is willing to submit Himself to evil does not mean that the evil He is subjected to ceases to be evil nor that culpability is mitigated in the least, since every evil is something God allows.

        • wineinthewater

          Never said otherwise. But directing anger at God is at lease engaging God. Anger is better than ignoring Him or pretending He does not exist.

          • Irksome1

            Directing towards God anger that He can’t possibly deserve is, as I said, taking His name in vain. That’s grave matter. If conducted with full knowledge and full consent of the will, it’s mortal sin. Preferring that grace-extinguishing, divine relationship-destroying mode of conduct to some other diabolical contrivance is hardly a sign of moral progress.

            Instead, why not treat such anger the way we would treat any other temptatian to sin? Resist, resist, resist!

            • chezami

              Job directed anger at God. A huge percentage of the psalms are psalms of complaint.

            • wineinthewater

              We’re not talking about a practicing catholic here. We’re talking about a man on the knife’s edge of unbelief. As grave a matter as directing anger at God might be, the denial of God is even more grave. So, while neither may be good, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that one is preferable to the other.

            • Lykex

              Oh yes! Resist temptation! Deny, deny deny!

              Let’s ignore certain percentages of the population (if not incredibly large ones) who’ve only damaged themselves from such devoted self-suppression.

  • andrewmartin

    Why would people assume that bone cancer in children is part of God’s plans? Couldn’t the devil be responsible for disease? Human beings are capable of warping creation to create new diseases. Do any of us believe that the devil is incapable of the same vile ingenuity that humans have already demonstrated? When you see evil, don’t assume it is part of God’s will. Evil exists because God tolerates freedom and the consequences of the same not because He needs it to paint a picture.