18 Sep

The non-existent Archbishop

Justin Welby, Arch of Cant, says, “I sometimes wonder whether God exists.” He added, ”There are moments when you think, ‘Is there a God? Where is God?’” He – Welby, I mean, not God – gives us a brief autobiographical sketch, a vignette from his fascinating life which he wishes – as modern churchmen love to say – to share with us: “The other day i was praying as I was running and I ended up saying to God, ‘Look, this is all very well, but isn’t it time you did something – if you’re there?’”

I imagine God out on his morning run – just a gentle million parsecs jog around the Andromeda galaxy – and thinking to himself, “Well, Welby, this is all very well, but isn’t time you did something about the parlous state of the Church of England?”

Welby looks at the suffering and tribulation in the world and wonders if there is a God. I look at the condition of the Church of England and wonder if there is an Archbishop of Canterbury. Surely an Archbishop who had good intentions would not allow the church, under his stewardship, to degenerate into such a dung heap? But degenerate it has, and that’s what makes me wonder whether the Archbishop really exists.

I’m afraid it’s the old story: Archbishop knows no theology; Archbishop fails to read the Bible. He’s worried about the so called problem of evil and human suffering and so, with an arrogance bordering on the Luciferian, he thinks to try to justify the ways of God to man. Wrong from the start: it is we who are under the judgement of God and not God who must conform to our ideas about what is good and what is evil and from whence these concepts originate.

If the Arch of Cant had ever bothered to read the Bible – only the first few chapters mind, I’m not requiring him to make a greater intellectual effort than to get past Genesis III – he would learn that the Bible says clearly and firmly near its very beginning that evil is a mystery into which we are commanded not to pry – on pain of death:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

However, since Adam took Eve’s apple and lost the paradisal look, God has not left us clueless as to this forbidden mystery. For alongside the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the Tree of Life. And the Tree of Life is the Cross of Christ. Whatever else all this might mean, it declares firmly that in the matter of suffering God does not exempt himself. The Creator, in his Son, by whom the worlds were made, suffers alongside His impudent creatures. The Enlightenment philosopher would say that, given such a shocking case, it had been better for God never to have brought the universe into being in the first place. But what does he know?

We are not left entirely in the dark about evil. St Augustine tells us that, for all its terrible appearances, evil is finally insubstantial – in Augustine’s phrase it is privation boni, the mere absence of good. As St Thomas Aquinas said, evil is banal and a mere parody of good – as Satan is the uncreative Ape of God.

To presume in that Humean playground to give an explanation of evil necessarily involves us in the even greater presumption of being able to explain God. If the word “God” is allowed to mean anything beyond what is weighed in the false balances of the Enlightenment philosophers, the very concept is absurd. For the origin of evil lies in the unsearchable counsels of God, and it is as inexplicable as the being of God himself. We cannot go beyond Augustine’s privatio boni, for the fruit of this tree we are not allowed to eat. All we know, according to St Augustine, is that despite the appearances, love is the only reality; and evil and suffering, along with death, are among those things which shall be swallowed up in victory.

The final absurdity of the Enlightenment project is in its rejection of absolute moral values while persisting in the folly of continuing to ask absolute moral questions.

Welby should be careful he isn’t overdoing it and he reminds me of the American President Gerald Ford who, it was claimed, could not walk and chew gum at the same time.

Don’t try to pray when you’re jogging, Justin: it clearly puts too much strain on your mental faculties.