Justin Welby Wrestles With God...
Last week, I posted this blog about Justin Welby's comments regarding the Paris attacks. Rather than a personal attack on Welby, the reason I felt I wanted to write something on this was that I felt disappointed and frustrated with his response as a faith leader.
As I was writing it seems, Welby was also, and posted this blog on his own website which claims that he got it wrong and his comments were taken out of context:
The essence of my answer was that everyone has moments when they question things, and one sees that in the Psalms. The psalmist in Psalm 44 asks God if he is asleep, and challenges him in the most direct terms about his failure to deliver Israel. It is a psalm of protest.
When there are tragedies like Paris, when friends suffer, when evil seems to cover the face of the Earth, then we should be like the psalmist.
This is perfectly reasonable and I am prepared to accept this explanation from Welby. The very theme of my blog is questioning in faith, like a child who does not always understand the actions of a parent. In biblical terms, this makes me think of the genesis of Israel a name which means "struggles with God". Trying to understand anything from a mathematical equation to a building design is a struggle, so it is with God and our existence.
I'm not letting Welby completely off the hook however.
The consistently intelligent Matthew Parris puts it this way in Saturday's Spectator:
The Paris atrocity has not occasioned me any new doubts, but Justin Welby’s remarks have caused me to doubt Archbishop Welby. Speaking on behalf of God, I have to ask the Archbishop: ‘Justin, where are you in all this?’
If, on the other hand, one is unsure about the existence of God, one does not seek to discount troubling evidence against the theory, but approaches it with an open mind.
I suspect that describes Archbishop Welby. If so, we should not reproach him for responding to an act of great wickedness as he did — though we might enquire whether it was really a good idea to be Archbishop of Canterbury. But what I must reproach him for is this: Paris is now, close to home, and once Welby’s own home, but why should that make the atrocity any more philosophically troubling than a Lisbon earthquake centuries ago? I feel a righteous anger against people who renounce their faith because their aunt died of cancer. Other people’s aunts die of cancer all the time. ‘Why us? Why me? Why now?’ should carry no more force than ‘Why others? Why then?’
The Archbishop’s response was doubtless human, but theologically shallow. Jesus, in His agony (‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?) doubted Himself, not God. Straining his ears on last Saturday’s walk, the Archbishop might have heard a rumble from the sky: ‘My Canterbury, my Canterbury, why has thou forsaken me?"This is my point. You may well applaud Welby for his honesty; you may identify with his admission of doubt, but what a missed opportunity to speak to exactly this issue?
Why oh why are we so lacking in leadership in the present age? A leader recognises and empathises with such natural reactions and from that empathy articulates the response required to deepen and increase one's faith. This answer is born of a deep personal relationship with Christ which comforts and confirms us in faith, and the intellectual conviction born of intense and thorough study of the problem in the context of the Gospel message.
If you are struggling with the problem of evil, you might like to read some of my own thoughts on this here.