John Humphrys is a household name in the UK. He is one of the principal anchors of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, which broadcasts every morning of the week except Sunday. Politicians have a love-hate relationship with the program, since they know that the country’s opinion-formers listen to it. On the one hand, they want the exposure that this influential program brings. On the other hand, they fear taking part in the major post-eight-o’clock interview—especially if Humphrys, who is known as a mercilessly disrespectful, is the interviewer of the day. Furthermore, it is often through Humphrys’ interviews that the BBC’s left-wing bias is most evident.
For three weeks, Humphrys is presenting another “lighter” program, called Humphrys in Search of God. Humphrys says that he used to believe in God, but that a lifetime of seeing suffering and death as a journalist has taken his faith from him. In successive programs, Humphrys intends to interview leaders of major religions, to see if they can convince him to believe in God again. In the second program, he will interview a Muslim, and in the third he will interview Sir Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s Chief Rabbi. But in the first program, broadcast on Tuesday, October 31, he wanted to interview a Christian, and therefore chose Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I have been critical of Williams on this website before, but I hoped that he could give a good account of his relationship with God. Unfortunately, the interview proceeded not as I hoped, but as I expected.
Why did God create a world in which these things happen—in which innocent victims suffer?
Humphrys’ questions were fair and predictable. He focused on why a God of love and mercy allows suffering. He recalled the 1966 Aberfan disaster in Wales, where a large coal tip suddenly slipped, engulfing a school and killing most of the small children inside. The Aberfan disaster affected both program participants, as Wales is the birthplace of both Humphrys and Williams. Humphrys says that the “final nail in the coffin” for his faith was the terrible massacre of schoolchildren at Beslan, in southern Russia, in 2004. His question was, “Why did God create a world in which these things happen—in which innocent victims suffer?”
One would have hoped that Williams would have picked up on the word “innocent.” While those precious children were not jaded, hardened adults, they, like we all, have inherited their sin nature—and sentence of death—from Adam (1 Cor. 15:22). (For more information on this topic, please read “‘Lost’ Without Genesis.”) I cannot see how there could be a sound answer to this fundamental question that doesn’t address the origin of sin in Genesis 3. However, we already know that Williams does not accept a literal interpretation of Genesis. Instead, Williams said, “What God can do is not exhausted by the world. God has an eternity.”
Humphrys rightly picked up on this extraordinary comment. “So the best you can offer these parents [of massacred children] is ‘bear up, it’s part of God’s design purpose—your reward will be in heaven.’”
Humphrys actually came across as a genuine seeker. Sadly though, he chose to interview a person who had no answers. At one point, Humphrys emotionally stated, “I want to believe because I want to make sense of the world. I want to believe the same vague God that you believe in.” Unwittingly, he had put his finger on the problem. Williams’ god is a vague god. His god, at least as presented, is not the God of the Bible.
Those of us who accept Genesis as truth have answers. The recent fifth anniversary of 9/11 has reminded us that the answers are in Genesis. We have answers, because we know where sin, death, disease, and struggle came from and why they exist. We can explain a world where “innocent” victims die. That is why it is so important that Christian leaders take God’s Word at face value. I was recently taken to task by a church minister for criticizing Dr. Williams, whom he described as “the foremost theological thinker of his age.” Williams is indeed a man of great intellect, but his source of information, as presented, has not been from Scripture, but only from his own understanding—which goes against Scripture (Proverbs 3). Thus he was not able to provide a seeker like Humphrys with the answers he needs.