Last week Arthur and I went to see Eddie Izzard in his latest show Stripped. We’ve previously enjoyed his humorous take on European history in Dress to Kill and this time amused ourselves pre-show by translating the Hebrew paragraph on the backdrop. There were a number of other ancient languages there as well so we figured the show would be about ancient history. It was actually more about beliefs. Izzard opened with the statement that he used to be an agnostic but had decided to become an atheist for two reasons.
Reason 1: Why doesn’t God just show up? He said he’s asked him to but he doesn’t. And if God was going to show up, it would have to be impressive. He couldn’t just walk onto stage – he’d have to come through the roof or something!
Reason 2: Hitler and Nazis. Why didn’t God just blow Hitler’s head off and stop the whole sorry mess?
He concluded that history doesn’t have a purpose, it’s just one big mess and we are its only hope.
Obviously Izzard’s reasons betray a inadequate understanding of God. It’s predicated on God answering to humans, for example, and God preventing human sin. But I suspect that his reasons are common and compelling in our day and age. Interestingly, the crowd were with him on all his reasons, but stopped short when he made the leap from agnosticism to atheism. Ah, Australians, always sitting on the fence!
But that’s got me thinking about how to respond to these reasons in an evangelistic setting. One way might be to correct the understanding of God, a pre-suppositional approach. I was wondering what would happen though, if I accepted the assumptions. What if I said that yes, God should show up and that yes, God should deal with evil?
I wonder whether this line would more easily get to Jesus. Rather than an esoteric discussion about cosmology, the first reason lends itself to saying, ‘Actually, God has shown up but we didn’t like it!’ It’s where Eddie Izzard hits the nail on the head – Jesus wasn’t what people expected him to be. So let’s talk about Jesus.
Secondly, accepting the idea that God should have intervened in the whole Hitler situation could raise another question. Couldn’t the God who we think should have topped Hitler also have stopped humans from killing Jesus, especially if Jesus is who he said he was? God who doesn’t stop Hitler might be unpalatable; how much more shocking is a God who doesn’t stop those who crucified him? There are several justifications for that – impotence might be one reason; Christians might also point to love or justice. It at least gives us room to talk about a God who hates evil and has acted to defeat it.
I wasn’t offended by the show, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected. I think Izzard’s points are fair enough. And his serious subject matter doesn’t resort to Christian-bashing. How would you approach these issues?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.