Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. (John 14:1)
There’s been a little fuss in the press recently about the reporting of Stephen Fry to the authorities in Ireland, alleging that he may have broken the law against blasphemy. What he said was over two years ago, in response to a question on television. The interviewer Gay Byrne asked him what he would say to God if he were to meet him at the pearly gates. He said he would tell him that he must be a monster to allow the world to be full of suffering: the example he gave was of children suffering with bone cancer.
These are hard questions, of course, and he puts them in a way which might seem hard, angry and even arrogant. No doubt, some people may be offended.
But actually, it would be very mistaken for any law to make such comments illegal. Not because we call have a right to free speech - important though that it is. Not even because some people might be upset to read them - as may be the case. No - it would be mistaken because to make these words illegal, is to ignore what is written in scripture itself.
Time and time again we hear voices in Scripture questioning and challenging God.
The Hebrews cry out to God in the wilderness
Jeremiah 12:1 Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
Job 3:11 Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?
I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing.
And Psalm 22 begins with the words “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” - words which Jesus himself shouts out from the cross.
No - where Fry is wrong, really wrong, is in supposing that comments like this are new or unusual, as if we had never heard them or thought of them before - and if we are offended by them, then we play into the hands of those who attack our faith.
It is not that belief in God is undermined, or weakened by words like that. On the contrary, it is the sorrow of the world which is the reason why people believe - why we believe.
Look at the lives of the martyrs, who in courage and faith are willing to surrender their lives, praying for their persecutors and submitting to death. Look at the lives of other saints, good and faithful servants of God, who give themselves in service of others and approach death not with fear but with hope and joy. And look at the words of Christ, who invites us to cast fear and doubt aside and embrace the love of God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says. “Trust in God still, and trust in me”.
The questions we and other raise are hard, and painful, and take us to a dark place. Yet challenges inspire faith, far more often than they destroy it.
When there are atrocities or natural disasters - what do people do - well first they pray, visit churches, light candles. We may not understand why things have happened, but we seek meaning … we don’t reject it.
And next, in the response to tragedy, faithful people act - to help and console the afflicted, to come to the assistance of those wounded, physically, materially and emotional. So many charities are Christian or religiously inspired and they come to those in need.
And I am reminded that this Gospel reading is read so often at Funeral Masses and Funeral Services. It is a time when, as a priest, I see most clearly how people deal with grief, loss, and the reality of death.
Faith helps at times like this. Times when we are troubled. Times when we walk through the valleys of darkness. Times when we fear. It motivates and gives hope.
We may walk through a dark tunnel - but through the darkness we can glimpse the bright light of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.