‘Faith, I’m not sure it’s even real’ – Mike Atherton

This morning, as every morning the first thing I did when I opened my eyes was thank God for the amazing woman laying next to me. Now I should qualify that statement, the amazing woman is my wife.

This morning ritual does nothing to help me answer the question asked of me by a very Christian friend of mine who is walking from Wiltshire to York for Lent. He is carrying a huge wooden cross to encourage people to feel inclined to ask why! This morning he asked me to explain my faith. You see the problem is, I’m not sure I truly have faith that there is indeed a God. I believe there’s a God but I have no proof. Not ‘definitive, there see I told you’ proof. What I do have is doubt and that’s the problem. I have tons of evidence and plenty of proof that the entity we want to be God isn’t what we think he is at all. Indeed why should he be a he? Because I was told he is! People in Sunday school told me many things. Things that they believed in with unquestioning faith and we were expected to believe them just as faithfully.

Then the God I so wanted to believe in let my mum die. I was 13 years old and along with my mum’s death came something just as bad; I lost my dad as well. Oh he didn’t die, he broke; the passing of the one woman he ever truly loved shattered him. He never recovered, never found a way around the grief and when he died 17 years later he was relieved to be leaving the pain of loss behind. What compassionate God could do that to a man? To me??

So as a trauma nurse in the military I saw what mankind can and does do to one another. It makes you question faith and like my dad before me, I never found the answer either. Or did I?

As that same trauma nurse I saw the wonder of childbirth, I saw the joy of recovery from near fatal injuries, I felt the same emotions as those new parents and those gifted with a new life so nearly departed.

If God is so omnipotent why does he let those who suffer so grievously fall and struggle? Not adults but children with no faith or belief to question, they are indeed the innocent and yet spared nothing of the suffering and pain of a callous and cruel world?

I think I might have a bit of an answer, you see God dropped a clanger. He made men (and women) imperfect when he could have done the job properly and made us all perfect. If we had no ability to cause pain and suffering to one another wouldn’t that be something to crow about!

But that’s not what he did, was he distracted? Or is he flawed as well? Are we truly made in his image and if so why doesn’t my wife have a lovely white beard. This is my point. He could have done a much better job on us. He could have made us more perfect. Why do I see him as a man? Is it because as men we are so arrogant as to think that we are the perfect design?

Now I have to say before I go on, I like him, he’s my kind of bloke. He has a sense of humour and I would love to think he laughs a lot. God knows he should because if we’re the best he could come up with, well lets just say there’s room for improvement in the Mk2.

My best friend in the whole world is a faithful follower of the Roman Catholic Church. We share so much love that we are truly brothers. We jest about each others faith with a humility that comes with the sort of compassionate loving people that any God would be proud of. But then God didn’t decide Jim is Catholic and I am Protestant, man did. For one second just stop and see the problems mankind has created in name of religion. Would God really not stop that nonsense?

Can it be right that a book, the Bible, can be responsible for such atrocities? That the Koran can be so misrepresented in the name of a God? Not our God obviously! Now there is an irony, that both books clearly state in unequivocal terms that we should love one another but still we don’t.

The church has let their God down; he must be a bit miffed to be honest. We have so many cases of abuse by the very people we have placed so much trust in. Priests have wielded power inappropriately for millennia, Bishops have worn crowns of majesty and abandoned any religious beliefs. Power is a seductive mistress and she has taken her toll and left her mark.

But if I don’t have faith or even belief, I have hope. I see Pope Francis as the absolute embodiment of good. If God had picked him for his team, he’s done well.

I see John Sentamu, The Archbishop of York as a perfect example of humility and true belief and faith. I envy them (another failing I have to confess).

I would, in my own mind think of them as absolutely the same as me, just a man, but the teaching of my youth wont allow me that privilege. I was told and still am told when I go to seek the things I am missing in church, that I am a sinner and I must repent. I’m afraid that’s not the way to tell me. Along with my many failings, being stubborn and pig headed are amongst the best. Any God worth his salt would forgive me because in essence I’m one of the good guys. I’m just flawed.

I have enough friends to feel truly blessed. I have a wonderful family and grandchildren to love. I’m not hungry or cold or in pain, I am blessed.

So although I don’t proclaim to be the most Christian of men I am comfortable with the understanding that these are all gifts. Fragile and mortal and when its my turn to say to Saint Peter why he should allow me access I’ll tell him this, I was always prepared to believe, I had faith enough to allow the question to be asked and sense enough to listen to the answers.

Like Andy and Adele, we get there by putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going old friend, I have every faith in you.

Mike Atherton