Q & As with the Archbishop
Every day is different. I may be in the Diocese of York visiting a local church or school, or opening a new hospital wing. I may be in the House of Lords, or engaged in a mission with other Bishops in the Northern Province. That's one of the things that makes this job so fantastic as you never quite know what will happen next. The thing that is always the same every day is prayer. I start my day with prayer and I finish with prayer. Throughout the day I try to be aware of what God is doing wherever I happen to be.
I have the best job in the world as the Church pays me to talk to people about Jesus and to help others get to know him. Alongside that I get to support others as they look after their local churches and through my role at the House of Lords I get involved in the conversations about the shaping of this country’s future. At the heart of all of it is my desire to point people to Jesus - its all that I do.
This is a question that everyone comes back to at some point. We can see and we experience the suffering of the world and so it is natural to ask where is the God of love? There is no complete answer to this but we need to be clear about our starting point. For me, I’m 100% certain about the reality of suffering but I’m also 100% certain about the reality of God’s love. Suffering does not disprove God but God meets us in our suffering in ways that can bring hope even in the most desperate situations. We see that awesome love and terrible suffering meeting in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death and resurrection show that there is a way through suffering in which God is able to bring resurrection. When I was being tortured in prison under Idi Amin I was acutely aware of the presence of God with me even in those darkest of times. Whilst I pray that we may never encounter such suffering, the presence of God in the midst of suffering is not a conundrum to be explained but it is a mystery I have experienced.
Forgiveness is not something that can be manufactured or forced upon anyone. Forgiveness is an extraordinary act of grace. We believe that in his death on the cross Jesus took it upon himself the sin of the world. That means not just the things that we have done wrong but the things that have been done to us. In taking that all onto himself, Jesus has opened up the possibility of forgiveness, even in the most devastating of circumstances as we have seen. On Christmas Eve 2012, Maureen Greaves’ husband, Alan, was brutally murdered as he walked to church where he was due to play the organ at midnight mass. She shares a wonderful story of forgiveness in Love 'Agape' Stories, as does Dr Gee Walker who set up the Anthony Walker Foundation in memory of her son. This is a charity working to promote racial harmony through education, sport and the arts. We gasp in awe not because such forgiveness seems simple but it seems beyond us and so we reach out to God asking for him to make possible what to us seems impossible.
Who am I to judge who is a non-believer? Our starting point has to be that we are all created in the image of God and God longs to draw us home to be with Him forever. I believe that there will be all sorts of people welcomed into the Kingdom of God but they will be there because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf. The image I always use is of crossing the Humber. Those who live in Hull know where it is, and can find their way across even in the fog. There may be others who don’t know of its existence but find their way safely over the Humber and it is only when they look back as the fog clears that they see the bridge that they have travelled. Ultimately this is a question for God, not for me!
Philosophers are absolutely right that you cannot prove the existence of God in any ‘scientific’ way. Equally any philosopher worth their salt will also tell you that you cannot disprove the existence of God. Rather than proof we need to talk about evidence. Evidence for the existence of God comes in many forms - only one of which is our experience. We therefore need to test the experience against what God has already revealed of Himself and for the Christian that ultimate revelation comes in the person of Jesus Christ. It is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his transformation of the lives of billions of people over the centuries that we have our most convincing evidence that God is both real and experienced.
Yes! And for most of history, science and religion have been very happy partners. It is an accident of history that set up this apparent conflict between science and religion. Science seeks to understand how God has established the Created Order and this is something which has always fascinated Christians and non-Christian's alike. Indeed down the years the Church has been at the forefront of science. It is sometimes said that science looks at how life happens whereas religion looks at why life happens. Every human being however has a longing to know both the how and the why and if we begin to think that we can take one without the other we are denying ourselves some extraordinary insights into the Created Order in which we live.
I think the question ignores one crucial factor that we are all created in the image of God. ‘Created in the image of God’ is a slightly mysterious phrase but would suggest that we are born with an in dwelling sense of right and wrong. I'm sure that we all know people who would in no way describe themselves as religious and yet they demonstrate with their every action a true love of neighbour. We may never acknowledge where we get that sense of morality but for me I would always want to know the source of that morality more deeply so that I can grow in my capacity to show compassion and grace to others.
In trying to discern whether or not God is real we may want to act like a barrister building up evidence for a case. We could look at the Created Order and wonder at its intricacy and its harmony. We could look at our religious texts and see in them the stories of God at work I the lives of others. For the Christian, our most compelling evidence comes in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet the most compelling evidence that God is real comes when you have a personal encounter with that reality. It happened for Saul on the road to Damascus, it happened for Martin Luther King Jr whilst saying the mass and for me it happened as a young boy celebrating my 10th birthday. We may find the evidence compelling but ultimately it is only the encounter which is genuinely, or not, transforming.
All too often attacks on other people happen because we fear what we do not know. We are suspicious of what is different. My responsibility as a Christian is to try to understand my neighbour so that I may love them more deeply as Jesus calls me to. It is as I get to know my neighbour that we come to understand our common ground but also see more clearly our differences and recognise that our differences do not need to divide us. To that end I do believe I have a responsibility to encourage everyone to try to understand one another more deeply that we may develop relationships that go beyond the superficial and ultimately build a stronger community.
My main interest is Jesus and I love telling others about him, whether that's part of my daily work or in my time off! I love spending time with God in prayer and in reading and for me both of these are genuinely refreshing.
Like so many others I get great pleasure from the simple things in life such as family and food. I’m a proud parent and grandad, and love seeing my children and grandchildren growing into all that God has created them to be.
As most people will know I also love cooking and have shared the joy of cooking with millions through Mary Berry’s Easter Feast. I am told she has since adopted the changes I made to her Rutland lamb recipe!
Growing up I played a lot of sport and this continues to be a real pleasure. Even if my best sporting years are behind me, I still delight to see top sports women and men achieve in greatness.