jQuery Slider

You are here

Don't blame God, Dr. Williams - by Peter Mullen

Don't blame God, Dr Williams

By Peter Mullen

It is depressing to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, confess on Radio Four that the Beslan atrocity has made him doubt his faith. Asked, "Does your faith not tremble just a tiny bit?" he replied, "Of course it does. Yes, there is a flicker, there is a doubt."

The obvious question to the Archbishop is, "You've a tremble or a flicker in your faith in what?" Presumably in God. But it wasn't God who entered that school and murdered the infants. Why blame Him? Besides, there was an infamous precedent set by King Herod - though I don't suppose Mary Magdalene's faith went wobbly when she heard of the massacre of the innocents.

We know of course that there is such a thing as "the problem of evil", but I have never been able to see much of a problem here. The argument was classically put by David Hume when he argued that the fact of evil in the world is not consistent with belief in a good God: "If God is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good, whence evil? If God wills to prevent evil but cannot, then He is not omnipotent. If He can prevent evil but does not, then he is not good. In either case he is not God."

The argument is trivial. The creation of anything involving freedom for what is created is bound to raise the possibility of evil. The Bible teaches that God endowed human beings with free will. Unfortunately, humankind seems frequently to choose the evil. There is a reason behind this choice and it is that referred to as Original Sin and described by St Paul in words of one syllable: "The thing I would not, that I do and what I would, I do not."

The complaint from those who lose their faith in the event of evil is both unjustified and vague. Where do they stop? If God ought to have prevented the massacre at Beslan, then oughtn't He also to have prevented other unfortunate episodes such as the children's deaths in the Aberfan slag heap disaster or the shootings at Dunblane?

It seems that this God must operate a sort of sliding scale. According to the faith-losing theologians, He surely should have prevented the atrocity at Beslan. But if evil is the problem, then how much evil can be tolerated before we start losing faith in the Creator? Should I put up with my coughs and sneezes but fall into a theological sulk if I get pneumonia? And so it must go on until the fact that an old lady slips on the soap as she gets out of the bath will count as an argument against the existence of God. That is why the so-called "problem of evil" is an absurdity.

Rather than find himself obliged to doubt the goodness of the Lord, the Archbishop and all the other Christian theologians and priests might more profitably declare that evil is the price humanity pays for its freedom - in fact the price for being here at all. They might add that the Christian faith also teaches that death is not the worst that can happen.

There is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Or has the faithless contemporary church descended so far down the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire that even the Creed is no longer believable?

--The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill in the City of London and Chaplain to the Stock Exchange

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top