“How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?” probed broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine in discussion with Justin Welby in the Diocese of Worcester on 7th October. He wasn’t asking on his own behalf: he has weighed many of things in his own walk of faith. “I find when I am talking to friends who are maybe quite atheist, the one big thing always is…,” he explains. So much suffering; so much pain, anguish, hardship, torture… Why?
“Well…,” responds the Archbishop of Canterbury, pausing to gaze at a speck of dust on the floor. “It’s the third time today I’ve been asked the question…” He meanders around previous interrogations.. “..really, really seriously..” No picnic here: “I know it is THE question,” he affirms.
Very long pause. The speck of dust has moved. Dark here, innit.
No, let’s start again.
“I don’t think there’s a good answer..”
He realises what he’s just said, and, respectful of God and Aquinas, hastily moves to qualify, mindful that his previous spontaneous musings have been broadcast around the world and unhelpfully interpreted by a largely unsympathetic media.
“..in an intellectual sense..”
The media won’t do Thomistic philosophy.
“I don’t think there’s an answer which says, ‘That’s it.'”
“I’m not a good enough theologian,” he justifies, before going on to expound the Book of Job.. God, Jesus on the Cross.. the crucified God.. and the psalmist who cries out with an anger against God that we would never dream of in our churches… In these we find a mystery: a community witnessing to the Suffering Servant, willingly laying down their lives for truth, justice and righteousness. Suffering is God’s only political policy, because the weakest suffer most, and power must be told the truth. When we share in the sufferings of the poor, helpless and oppressed, we are called blessed because the kingdom of God is ours. No one said that bringing peace to a world of violence and injustice would be easy: we might even be called to die a martyr’s death.. in agony.. like Jesus.
The world doesn’t need more clever christologies or convoluted apocalyptic words from archbishop-theologians: it just needs a few more Christians who will do this: