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So where was God at Beslan? - by Rowan Williams

So where was God at Beslan? - Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on the massacre of children in Beslan, Russia -

Sept. 6 2004

Aled Blake
The Western Mail

The slaughter at Beslan was so horrific it was enough to test the faith of the most committed of Christians, Archbishop Rowan Williams said at the weekend. So how should we react to the massacre of the innocents?

With a rising death toll, it is now clear that more than 350 people were killed in the Russian town after being held hostage at the school - with scores of children among the dead.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has admitted it led him to momentarily doubt his faith in God. He said it would be inhuman not to question one's beliefs in the light of such evil.

Dr Williams branded the terrorists' actions "evil" and called for them to be imprisoned for life.

He said, "I think it is probably the suffering of children that most deeply challenges anybody's personal faith.

"When you see the depth of energy that people can put into such evil, then of course, yes, there is a flicker, there is a doubt. It would be inhuman, I think, not to react that way."

Dr Williams said the terrorists had perpetrated "the most evil kind of action" imaginable.

He insisted the murdered children had not been abandoned by God. God had given humans the freedom to make their own decisions, and He did not intervene, even in evil acts like the massacre.

Dr Williams quoted the Bible in which Jesus says it would be better for people who committed offences against children to have millstones put around their necks and be cast in the sea. Furthermore the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, said God did not love those who overstepped the limits.

He said he did not want to see the terrorists exterminated, and called for them to be given life sentences.

"They were performing deeply evil acts," he said. "They were performing perhaps the most evil kind of action that we can imagine."

His views have been echoed by clergymen and women around Wales, struggling to find answers to how such evil acts could have been carried out.

Canon Enid Morgan of Llangynwyd Church, near Maesteg, said, "Rowan has such a capacity for putting into words what people feel and believe.

"Human beings behave abominably, the cycle of violence always works by reaching up to something even worse.

"We find it hard to think of anything as bad as September 11, then this happens. There has to be a refusal to take revenge. It was absolutely terrible. I was reminded of the story in the New Testament of Herod slaughtering the infant children. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, so we can only weep over this."

Andrew Morton, rector of St Cybi's Church in Llangybi, near Cwmbran, said, "I've had similar conversations with my congregation.

"It is largely to do with where is God in all this, what is He playing at?

"The major problem that we have, in terms of beliefs of the Church, is that God has given human beings free will, so they can either choose to do bad things or they can choose to do good things.

"If they choose to do bad things, then it is not so much that they can't do anything about it, but He chooses not to do anything about it, because what is the alternative.

"The alternative is to take away our free will and our capacity to do evil, at which point we are no longer human. We cannot actually get away from that. It doesn't make God bad, it makes us bad.

"One of the things we do on a regular basis, when something really bad happens, is to blame God rather than blame the people.

"That is a great get out, it absolves humanity of responsibility, but I am sorry, I don't play that game. He has given us the capacity to do the right thing.

"One of my mantras is the fact that we never get it right, we just get it less wrong. Until such time as humanity accepts responsibility for its own actions, then we are in no position to criticise God.

"What is the alternative to people making choices? The alternative is that people don't have power to make choices. If that happens then we are no longer humans."

Church congregations across Wales were yesterday praying for the people of Beslan.

Philip Johnes, vicar of Llanegwad in Carmarthenshire, said, "One's gut reaction to this is to condemn it and that these are barbaric and inhumane actions and we ask where God is.

"He is in the middle of all the suffering and He is weeping for all creation and all those involved. All we can do is to pray for the sorrowful and the dead.

"Although it is early for the people of Beslan, we must talk about forgiveness and reconciliation, there has to be forgiveness and reconciliation in any situation.

"These things have been going on for centuries, time is not always a healer and you have to do something. Unless we do forgive and have reconciliation at some time in the future then we are not fully human either.

"The death of anybody, of a single child, is just incomprehensible that somebody could do this in the name of politics and independence.

"It is difficult to answer and sometimes the best thing we could do if we were there would be to stay silent, being there with their suffering is all you can do. People do expect answers and expect the Church to come up with answers.

"God is there, surely weeping with those who weep."


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