Tish Harrison Warren | God Is A Bad Fairy Godmother

The problem of evil has confounded people of faith as far back as Job. And the knowledge of the world that has been brought about by science has not made it any easier to answer the question of why a good and powerful God would let bad things happen. Tish Harrison Warren confronts the problem of evil in her book, Prayer in the Night . In the book she asks the question, how can we trust God at all when we can’t trust that God will keep bad things from happening to us? In the episode, we talk about how praying the compline prayer helped her to find an answer to that question and we talk about what prayer is and what it does. We also discuss COVID 19, broaching the topic of returning to in-person church, which she has written about in some recent newsletters in the New York Times.


Beautiful presentation. Rivaled only by the wonderful barbeque in her hometown of Lockhart, which is just a hop from my home town in central Texas.
She touched on something that has been on my mind lately when the interview turned to grief and lament:

" We weep, we grieve, we have to do the work of lament. We have to admit that we are not going to make all things right, we’re not going to save the world. And we need to actively lament and grieve. "

I think we need to actively do this as we try to return to a new normal after the last few years. I mentioned this to our pastor and he agreed, discussing the dangers of triumphalism in the church. We will see, but I think a service dedicated to grief and lament as a community is in the works. Perhaps we can grieve as a church community to help us move on. In medicine, you have to drain the pus before the wound will heal.


Another one of the good, thoughtful ones. I like @jpms’s contrast between the usual triumphalism and the fox-hole advantage so many brag about. Rather than praying to beamed out if a hard spot I find a simple one to be given the strength and insight to help oneself is much more becoming.


Really enjoyed this conversation. Here are a few highlights that hit me….

Blockquote [M]y kids have these books that are sort of like, weird things about science … And I always wish people would make books like that for adults, because I love reading them. For adults like me, that are non-scientists, …I can only sort of set in like the entryway in the living room of that. And I feel like I need scientists to help me get kind of under, you know, under the floors and on the roof and look more deeply and understand, you know, what the the walls are made of, you know, and even the let me in new rooms that I don’t think I could find on my own. So, here’s what I’m saying. I’m not a scientist, but I’m curious and I like nature. And so I really like it when people tell me weird and interesting things about nature.

I feel very much like this. I have enough of a basic science background from school to inform me, “You don’t even know what you don’t know, and your math skills have rusted to insufficiency.”

My real interest in Biologos is that the YEC nonsense I could see through, when presented to me in high school (on stone tablets), has come back with a vengance. Praise God, this was not a big deal at my church then, but has become a big deal in most of the churches I am familiar with now. Otherwise, I would happily continue to ignore it, and probably wouldn’t feel the need for Biologos. Again, praise God, there is a place (here) where I am in touch with people who deal intelligently and honestly with both faith and science.

But I also think that the critique that the church has done a bad job, even before COVID at times, making accommodations, and supporting those with disabilities is also true.

I really appreciate that she expanded the issue from “live church vs covid safety” here. The lack of support and accommodations with those with disabilities, I think, is at the heart of the way so many churches have dealt with covid as well as other things. “Get with the program” was the underlying message I felt from the congregation of our ever-more libertarian church. “People at risk are welcome to come to church, if they want, and they should, but we’re not going to inconvenience ourselves in any way to accommodate their felt needs.” The message from the pulpit was gentle. But it never confronted this selfishness or promoted a more biblical understanding of how to treat our fellow congregants. I couldn’t live with that any more. We are currently seeking a new church (after 20+ years).

Your most recent book, Prayer in the Night is an extended meditation on compline.

I’m going to have to listen to this one. I loved “Liturgy of the Ordinary.” Prayer in the Night sounds like it might be a good companion to Michael Horton’s book, A Place for Weakness.

Really enjoyed this podcast. Thanks for including those non-scientists. We need to hang out here, but we need hooks to grab on to as well.


Hearing the unmentionable spoken aloud struck me much as it struck her in writing that chapter, and Jim when reading the book. No one asks the question that is so evident. I didn’t. Thanks to all.

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The discussion on competitive agency was powerful.

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That we actually really are wanting action on the part of God.

The important thing that we miss she points out well. We want God’s action to solve everyone’s problems and eliminate pain, a fairy godmother, or else we will not believe in him or trust him. But what God wants is to give us is himself, the most valuable thing there is. Her partial quote¹ of Lewis from Till We Have Faces nails it, “I know now why there’s not an answer, you are the answer, you alone are the answer. What other answer would suffice…”

It is also reminiscent of the twin parables,

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

Laura Story also gets it right in her song “Blessings”:


¹The complete quote includes the italicized text (italics added):

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”


Beautiful conversation! Thank you Tish, Jim and Biologos. I agree we cannot trust God in keeping bad things away. In my mind, it is like not trusting the vaccine to keep us uninfected; simply because it does not work that way. The vaccine fights the infection to healing and God is specialized in bringing the good out from what we perceive as “bad” to shape us. He did it with Job to make him experience “now my eyes have seen You” (Job 42:5), to Joseph through the wicked actions of his brothers to launch His salvation plan through Israel, to Jesus on Calvary to save me, and to me through suffering and hardship to…ummm…I’m sure I will witness one day why, but not yet…waiting on Him.