Saturday, 20 December 2008

Alan Johnson and Ingrid Betancourt on faith and prayer

The BBC News website features a fascinating and often moving conversation between Alan Johnson and Ingrid Betancourt about their experiences of being kidnapped, the former by Islamist militants in Gaza and the latter by the FARC in Colombia. Despite some similarities in the way they coped with the ordeal, they differed in one important way, as related by Johnson:

I am grateful to the many people who I know were kind enough to pray for me when I was lost in Gaza. But actually, I was not praying myself. I would hear on the radio of war and bloodshed in places like DR Congo, and I felt that if God was not intervening to spare the innocent there, I could not see quite why He might intervene for me.

I struggle to believe that God closely manages our individual lives. But Ingrid's faith seems to have been a huge factor in her survival. She said that I had simply not asked the right questions about God, and that it was our connection with Him that made us human. He was not creating the ills of the world, she said. Mankind had been given free will, and it was to blame.

Johnson is articulating one of the major stumbling-blocks to belief in a personal God. The experience of the Holocaust is often cited in evidence: if God failed to heed the cries of six million, who were surely praying as intensely as it is possible to imagine as they went to their deaths, why should we presume He would listen to our petty prayers for good health or a safe journey?

I remember reading an interview with an Anglican woman priest whose daughter was killed in the 7/7 bombings, as a result of which her Christian faith was deeply shaken. Friends tried to comfort her by reassuring her that, wherever her daughter was now, God would surely be looking after her. But why, the mother responded, wasn't He looking after her on that terrible morning, on the London Underground?

In the light of God's apparent silence through the horrors of the past century, the capacity to go on believing in Him depends on the extent to which one finds Ingrid Betancourt's response convincing.

1 comment:

Sarah Franco said...

amazing... I was going to post on this too, but because of preparations for CHRISTMAS, I didn't have time (well , not exactly the part on faith)

I think that the fact that Ingrid Bettancourt was held hostage for much longer explains part of it.

I think faith is, above all, a mental strategy that some people use and others, including people who consider themselves as believers, don't.