Nov 232015

Yesterday one of our church members drew my attention to some articles in the press about what Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was reported to have said in an interview on Songs of Praise on Sunday evening. And from the perspective of someone with a deep faith in God the reported comments were concerning:

The BBC has an article  with the headline:

Welby - Paris

Paris attacks caused archbishop to ‘doubt’ presence of God

In the article itself this is clarified that the Archbishop was asking God where He was in what had happened.

The article also has him saying that:

the killings had put a “chink in his armour”

But the video extract in the report itself shows this wasn’t something the Archbishop said but a question he was asked and to which he responded in a deeply personal and reflective way. Arguably the Archbishop’s mistake is answering “yes” to the question before the question was fully asked!

This is picked up in other reports such as in the Independent and the Daily Mail.

Listening to the actual interview (10 minutes in) reveals a much deeper insight into what the Archbishop was saying as he clearly and openly struggles with coming to terms with the tragedy in Paris.

He says:

Some people watching this program will be asking the question “Where is God, where is He in all this?” He’s alongside with that deep involvement in the suffering and pain of the world that took Him to the cross.welby - cross

Here he is recognising the reality of what many people will be asking and answering in a caring and deeply pastoral way as he acknowledges that God places himself in the midst of anguish and loss in so many different ways.

He was asked:

Do you ever doubt?

and says:

Oh, gosh, yes

The follow-up question was:

Does something like this happening ever put a chink in your armour?

He answers “yes” before the question is finished – about at “put a chink” and then goes on to reflect more fully:

Saturday morning  I was out and, as I was walking, I was praying and saying “God, why, where, why is this happening, where are you in all this?” And then engaging and talking to God. Yes, I doubt.”

The next question was:

What answers did He give you?

to which he responded:

“He said in the middle of it” and also an answer from the Psalms, Psalm 56, “He stores up our tears in a bottle”. None of our sufferings are lost.

Hi goes on to speak about the power of religion and how it can be used as a tool by the wicked to twist people into doing what they want them to do.

Here we have someone really feeling for those who had suffered so much and seeking to explain how much God cares for and suffers with them. Someone who is prepared to recognise the questions it raises and to seek to respond to them honestly. Someone who was prepared to share something of his own internal journey to get to a place where he could speak positively about God’s presence in the midst of pain and suffering.

He isn’t doubting the overall presence of God – rather, he speaks about engaging with God and conversing with Him as he seeks to understand where God was, specifically, in the Paris tragedy.

It is interesting that he refers to the Psalms when speaking about his doubts as they are full of people who cry out to God and ask Him what He is doing and why He isn’t acting. So he is drawing on a rich tradition of lament as people engage openly with God while (mainly) retaining complete confidence that God is there.

I think the Archbishop’s words are important but I think they have been mis-represented by some of the reports. Slightly ironic that he refers to Psalm 56 which also has:

All day long they twist my words; all their schemes are for my ruin. (Psalm 56:5)

Yes, it was possible to read things into what he was saying but its worth listening to the interview itself and hearing exactly what he did say.

And let’s pray for our leaders – both religious and government – as they seek to respond to these awful events in appropriate and compassionate ways.


Oct 142014

I, with three others, have just got back from a trip to a place called Talne in Ukraine. Our church has a link to another church there and this was an opportunity to meet up with people, to share together, to engage in various ministry activities and to get to know something of the country.


We spent time with many wonderful people, laughed together a lot and developed new and stronger friendships. But we also became aware of the real impact that the conflict and tensions in Eastern Ukraine are having on people’s everyday lives. These are things which I rarely see reported but which really struck us deeply.

We spent time with a minister and his wife who come from a church in Eastern Ukraine and they spoke about the opportunities they had to provide support and encouragement to soldiers who had been injured in the fighting – and the way in which these soldiers sometimes just needed someone to talk to so they could explain what they had seen and what they had experienced.

We were at the home of the pastor of the Talne church one morning and the electricity was cut off – apparently this is a regular part of conserving energy for the war effort.

We visited a massive granite quarry which is a major source of income and employment to people in Talne, and we were surprised to see that it was shutdown and nothing was happening. We were told that their major customer was Russia and they were no longer able to send stone there and so people had been laid off and production had stopped.

We visited a school and spoke with the teachers who told us about their sons and husbands who had gone off to fight – and the collections which were being taken to ensure that they would have what they needed. There was a sense of solidarity in the sadness.

There was a growing sense of patriotism with bridges being painted in the Ukrainian colours of blue and yellow and more people wearing traditional Ukrainian costume.

We went to a family’s home for a meal and met a lady who, with her husband, had had to flee from Eastern Ukraine as it was no longer safe for them to be there. The couple whose house we were in had contacted the local council to say that they had a room for refugees if needed and they had been taken up on their offer. We were really struck with this act of openness and generosity towards someone they had never met. A great demonstration of Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 25:35-36.

We stayed in the temporary home of a couple who are in the process of building their own home. However, building work has stopped due to lack of funds as the business the husband works in sells to people in Eastern Ukraine and they are no longer able to purchase as much.

And the moment which really brought it home to me was when we were visiting an old people’s home where a retired teacher spoke to me for about five minutes in passionate Ukrainian (which was thankfully translated). She was speaking emotionally and powerfully about what was happening to her country and the impact it was having on everyone and asking what we, in Europe, were going to do about it to force Russia to step back from its engagement and to allow the Ukrainian people to sort things out for themselves. There was a limited amount that I could say about what the United Kingdom was doing but she seemed to have a deeper sense of peace after we had spoken – maybe it was just that someone was prepared to listen. But I felt challenged to do something further and so to follow up on that I have just written to my local MP outlining what we saw in Ukraine and asking him to continue to encourage our government to do all that it can to help bring peace to Ukraine.

Please do pray for the people of Ukraine, that the conflict and killing will stop, that peace will be restored, that tensions will disappear, that people would be able to go about their normal lives and that Christians in that country will continue to be able to live as salt and light and be a blessing to those they meet.