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"...a capricious, mean minded, stupid God"

“Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded, stupid God who creates a world so full of injustice and pain – Children dying of bone cancer? – really? Why would God allow something so monstrously cruel? "

That was part of Stephen Fry’s passionate outcry against God this week which has generated so much debate.  

But these words did not appear to me to come from a man with no belief but a man who believes deeply: one who believes in justice, in compassion, in a better world.

And they do not sound like the words of a man who thinks there is no God but a man who is angry and disappointed with God. A man who wanted something more. Who expected God to be, you know, more God like.

Stephen Fry arguing with God at the gates of heaven reminded me of Abraham bargaining with God when God threatens to destroy the city of Sodom:  Abraham demands that God be more like God – just and compassionate – a God who would destroy his creation?  this is not the God that Abraham knows.  

And it reminded me of Moses pleading with God to spare his people – not because the people are good - they aren’t -  but because God IS. 

In the Isaiah passage we just heard the people of God, like Stephen Fry, long for a better world, a new Jerusalem, a place of peace and prosperity and human flourishing but they too are faced with children dying, with war and famine and poverty and they too want to know what the hell God is up to?  Why does God not care?: “why”, they cry, “is my way hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” 
They expected more from God.  

As did Simon and Andrew and James and John who, as soon as he walks in the door, “at once” tell Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick.  
Jesus was returning from the synagogue – that place of holiness and purity and significance – there has been healing for those who were able to come to him for healing – namely men.  This was no doubt godly work.                               

But to cross into the bed chamber of a woman - who was not only a woman but an unimportant woman (dependent on her son-in-law because she has no husband and no son of her own to support her) AND what is more an unclean woman (being sick with fever)  -   is definitely NOT what was expected of a respected religious leader.  

Simon and Andrew and James and John however have higher expectations: they believe in a God whose compassion extends even to the unimportant and marginal,  they believe in a God who will even cross the boundaries of decency and respectability, who will break the rules, take risks, to bring healing and new life to his creation –   they believe in a God who cares – who cares passionately and deeply and they are not disappointed. 

Now I often fail to live up to expectations.  I am not always a perfect mother in fact I am not always a good mother but my children refuse to accept this. They have higher expectations: they believe that I AM a good mum,  they expect me to respond to their needs, to care about their struggles, to be forgiving and  understanding and when I am not they demand that I get a grip and be more mum-like – when I say “I really don’t care” they insist that I do and they will just keep on until they are proved right. They expect, they demand, more of me.

Simon and Andrew and James and John - and Stephen Fry - expect more of God and so should we. For if we believe that God really doesn’t care about Simon’s mother-in-law dying of fever or about children dying with bone cancer – then what are we doing here?

I do not have an easy answer to the problem of pain and suffering (and if anyone does, you should be suspicious). But I do know that God cares about our struggles,  that God is passionately engaged in our world, that God’s hands are dirty and God’s heart is broken  and that God continually works to transform the evil in our world into something good,  to wrest something beautiful out of the mess we make,  to drag new life kicking and screaming out of death.  If I did not know this, really know this, then I would not be here. 

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that, although in their deep pain and sadness the people of Israel are willing to give up on God –    God is never, not ever, willing to give up on us.  God is powerful, the prophet tells us: “great in strength, mighty in power, he does not faint or grow weary”.But more importantly God (who offers us a chance to be his children, made in his image, born of his spirit) gives US this power. God is not content to pick us up carry us on fatherly wings of divine deliverance –   he wants us to have wings of our own so that we might grow up and start carrying one another. “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless… those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

Maybe if we stopped for a minute demanding that God sort things out, take the reins and act a bit more like God then we might hear God demanding that we start acting a bit more like the children of God we were born to become.  

Stephen Fry, all of us, are right to expect more of God for he is indeed mighty in power, he does faint or grow weary. And God, who gives power to the powerless, is right to expect more of us.