Here’s the text of my latest Credo column for the Newark Advertiser published today.
At a funeral I presided at recently I got talking to Mark, the son of the deceased. He is an atheist and he said: “The main problem I have with God is why you would need to have faith.” The other thing he expressed concern about was the existence of Hell.
Now this is something that fascinates me – what it is that people who don’t believe in God think that Christians actually believe or think about God. The reason that I think it’s so fascinating is that I’m convinced that if they realised that not all Christians think the same and that some Christians at least (including me) are very liberal in terms of their beliefs, the obstacles that they think are in the way of them believing in God might not be a problem after all.
Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote:
“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”
Paul is saying that nothing can separate us from the love of God. If he’s right (and he seems very certain on the point) that must include a loss or absence of faith mustn’t it?
Certainly the God I believe in, the God I talk about week by week in my church loves us all. If you take that position then you can’t logically take the view that he only loves people who are Christians (whatever being a Christian means – because I think every Christian is a Christian in their own way). Nor can you think that although he loves us all he’s prepared to condemn some of us to eternal suffering if we don’t believe exactly the right things, or if we weren’t born in the right place to have a chance of being Christian.
Sadly I sometimes think that Christians are more interested in putting up barriers than inviting people in, insisting on a whole load of doctrines that people need to accept before they can possibly be allowed in.
I think our job should be to remove unnecessary barriers that are getting between people and God. Because as far as I can tell Jesus wasn’t interested in building barriers but instead was in favour of including in the Kingdom people who didn’t think they belonged. The leper, the tax-collector, the unclean woman, the Roman soldier.
In my type of church there are no barriers, no in or out, no us or them. Instead there’s Jesus at the centre and everyone else around. Some might be closer to the centre, others further away, but all are seeking to understand more about God through Jesus. That’s good enough.
I think that Mark was surprised by my answers to his questions. He’s probably still an atheist, but he’s made a couple of small steps towards the centre.