Keeping Faith in Darkness

As a spotty sixth former, I was required to take a philosophy class. I remember very little about it except for one particular session that was an open discussion of the following proposition: ‘Doubt is a necessary aspect of faith’.

The general sense amongst those who supported the proposition, was that faith without doubt would not be faith at all – it would be certainty. For faith to be truly faith – a chosen attitude of the will – it must be based on uncertainty: there must be some element of doubt.

That discussion was entirely abstract. We played with the notions of faith and doubt as if they were instruments or tools – value-free, measuring and responding, detached from the inner worlds of the people they habituated.

But in other contexts, faith and doubt are much more personal, and we are involved with them. They affect us far more than we are able to observe them. In simplistic terms, they are experienced as opposites: either I have faith, or I doubt. ‘O you of little faith! Why did you doubt?’ (Matt. 14:31)

Faith can be thought of as enlightening; doubt as darkness. Faith is a way of expressing what we can see, so to speak. Doubt is when vision is impaired – clouded or foggy. Faith, like light, offers hope and life. Doubt, like darkness, can be bleak, forlorn, even dangerous.

Doubt often arises in relation to suffering. Faith in God can be boiled down to a faith in God’s goodness. The suffering of the world calls that into question. How can there be a good God in a world of suffering? And suffering itself can be described as darkness, invoking its intimations of deathliness, evil, and degradation.

How can we keep faith in darkness? What does it mean to be faithful when assailed by doubt? Is it possible to believe in God’s goodness, when afflicted or agonised?

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T’aint Civil War (Joshua 22)

The last few years at St Augustine’s College have begun with an induction day themed on Learning with Difference. We use a variety of approaches to difference in order to shape our identity as a diverse learning community. It falls to me to provide ‘the biblical bit’ and I offer a set of reflections on the story in Joshua chapter 22. It came to my mind quite forcefully last week.

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‘But it is you, my equal …’ Reacting to the conviction of Jan Joosten

Last week began with the shocking news of the conviction in France of Professor Jan Joosten on charges of possession of child abuse images. The details of the case, particularly its extent, were awful, almost awful beyond expression. The news particularly affects fellow members of the professional academic Biblical Studies societies of which he was a member and who were acquainted with him, including myself. It is with my fellow members in mind that I am writing these reflections, in the hope of providing some shred of support.

The immediate outpouring of reactions through social media was understandably raw, and prompts some reflections on how we can make sense of that, and thus have compassion for ourselves and one another in such circumstances. This in turn leads us to explore where can find resources within the Bible to help us in the processing of our reactions. And finally I will offer some thoughts on the implications for the reception of Joosten’s academic work.

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#BLM, White Male Privilege and Sexism in Academia

The tragic, heart-breaking death of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests on both sides of the Atlantic, have dominated my reflections for the past week.

As I am a representative of two institutions that are often charged with systemic racism (the Church of England, and the academic guild), I have been spending time reading more deeply into the topic. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The thing that has struck me more strongly than before is that (my) white male privilege tends to be invisible to me.

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Where’s the Cry of Anguish? (Prayers during Covid)

Not long after the current outbreak started, the Church of England nationally issued some prayers ‘for personal and group use at this challenging time’. They are available at the C of E website. They are good prayers and I hope that many people find them helpful. But something strikes me about them: they offer no articulation of personal negative or difficult feelings. In other words, they do not facilitate any personal lament.

I’ll explain what I mean by that, why it might matter, and what can helpfully supplement those prayers.

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The Allure of the Superlative : Finding Value in the Ordinary

One day last summer, I climbed a mountain. It was a lovely day – if anything a little too hot – and I enjoyed some gorge scrambling, stunning views, and the sense of challenge fulfilled as I reached the top. I sat down to eat my lunch as I admired the view. I was disturbed by only one other person during my break. Yet under a mile away, on a very similar peak, I could see crowds of people. They were coming and going all the time. At one point I tried to count up through my binoculars: there were at least 25 people on the summit at that moment.

The two peaks were very similar: equally accessible, equally scenic, and with similar views. In some respects, the mountain I was on was more impressive than the other. So why should there be such a huge preference for the other, of two virtually equal alternatives? The reason is very simple: that one is the highest peak in England (Scafell Pike); mine was merely the second highest (Scafell).

So this set me thinking. Superlatives are incredibly alluring, aren’t they?

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Will there be Female Bishops in Heaven?

Two new suffragan bishops have been appointed in the Diocese of Chichester, one of the partner Dioceses of St Augustine’s College of Theology. Ruth Bushyager will be Bishop of Horsham and Will Hazlewood will be Bishop of Lewes. I look forward to meeting and working with them.

The press release of The Society under the patronage of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda, describes Will as a ‘traditional Catholic priest’, by which I assume is meant one who has theological objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate. The Chairman of The Society commented, ‘It is wonderful to see the Church of England’s Five Guiding Principles being lived out in this way.’

The ‘Five Guiding Principles’ are those established following the Act of Synod allowing ordination of women to the episcopate in 2014. They include the superficially contradictory principles that:

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