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:
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.