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Transcript of Discussion with Sheilagh Kesting

I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth

General Opening Comments

You can’t conclusively argue for or against the existence of God - you can only do as the Creed says: believe. There is always a degree of doubt. It makes better sense of creation within the context of a God who is all loving. Belief is a key thing here and you waste time to argue if God exists or not.

The term ‘Father’ is problematic. and even if you don’t agree that it is, you have to take seriously that for a group of women and men they have a negative experience of their own father and need to hear that you can’t always disentangle God from your own experience.

For all of the history of Christianity and most of humanity, all societies have been patriarchic. It is the way society has been organised and the bible written therefore we have to be careful how we use the term ‘Father’ in relation to God.

There are times, however, when appropriate to speak of parent and child as our relationship with God.

Jurgen Moltmann talks of Worship and how we might pray and what then do you call God:
    Lord - servant master relationship
    Father - parent child relationship
    Friend - in the Bible people who see God in Jesus see God as friend: Jesus says: I call you no longer servants but friends.

Anyone of these are appropriate at different times and expect something different from God depending on which one you use.

Congregation: I use all the terms for God for that make me feel God is near.

Sheilagh: If you think about the ‘eternal’ aspect of God as creator then the politically correct way of doing so today is not to genderise that bit of the Creed. The Holy Spirit sometimes get the feminine because in Hebrew language the Holy Spirit is a feminine noun. Jesus is clearly male. But God is left gender neutral.

Our problem is we are finite creatures in terms of shape and gender and place when none of these things apply to God. We need to make God manageable and use language that does that but we need to recognise the implications (short and long-term) of what we say and believe when we do that.

Congregation: Young folk are happy to believe in God but not as Creator. They are more scientific.

Sheilagh: We have enquiring minds and therefore we take science seriously. Significant numbers of scientists get to a level of inquiry where they say beyond this point you need to use imagination and poetry. Look at the debate between Rowan Williams and Dawkins ( Dawkins used scientific language and Williams poetic. It was talking using different kinds of language and created a mishmash. Faith language is poetic. Where the scientific language breaks down and we say all is mysterious then we bring God into it in order to make some sort of sense.

Faith language makes sense in terms of purpose. Scientific language is not about purpose. Faith language is about how we relate to God as humans: through wisdom, love, mercy etc. This is all very counter cultural compared with the world at large where the language is more about greed and power.

What we seek is a faith language that recognises what is good and speaks of the integrity of everything.

Congregation: What do you say about young folk more interested in evolution?

Sheilagh: Don’t worry about being side-tracked with the Big Bang and Darwin. This is not so important. Understanding creation in terms of faith is a long journey. God is still mainly about relationships and this is more important.

Congregation: There is an idea of Proto-truth: truth is the truth as we have it at the moment. So what about the use of the word ‘mystery’ - God is shorthand for a mystery? And within that, we can get caught between behaving as a parent and behaviour that is more child-like.

Sheilagh: We can get caught in one or the other. Some become trapped in this because is it language and behaviour that seeks power therefore we cannot realise the broader idea’s of fatherhood.

Congregation: One problem of saying ‘God is Almighty’ is when we see what is happening in Syria and the holocaust and earthquakes etc. The big question is why an Almighty God allows these things to happen. Does Moltmann talk about a self-imposed limitation of almightiness?

Sheilagh: Yes! That is exactly right. God withdraws in order to allow a space that isn’t God but God relates to and everything that happens therein. It hurts God because God loves.

God has created something that has freedom built into it (refer back to sermon). The way of thinking about prayer of asking God to ‘solve this’ is quite selfish. This takes in no account of what happens in other places because of what you have asked for and the consequences of that. It grows a monstrous God.

There is something in the power of love to transform. The only power strong enough to cope with these things: pain and suffering, is the power to love through life. Love and life go together. 50 years ago Moltmann wrote: ‘God of Hope’ and then ‘The Crucified God’. God experiences the crucifixion in two ways:

    The son God loves, dies - God experiences the pain and the loss.
    God also undergoes death in Jesus

and because of these two things God dies and God suffers in relation to Jesus. This leads to being able to talk of resurrection and love which is stronger than death. Hold onto hope and work towards a new world suffering through it.

Congregation: It is regularly said more war is caused by Religion than anything else.

Sheilagh: By bad religion, yes. Bad religion causes war. There is no religion I am aware of that does not have at its heart love. What is behind war is about power and not about God, or a misunderstanding of God - ‘God is on our side’ - No! God suffers on all sides.

Congregation: The Pope has called this year the year of Mercy. The Pope has also just met the Orthodox Church of Russia. We need to improve our relationship: internationally, politically and religiously. How do you broker that?

Sheilagh: In terms of church relationships and leadership that is technically what the ecumenical movement is about.

Ecumene: means the whole earth and how it is sustained. The word ‘ecology’ comes from Oikos which means house. It is very difficult to look after the house sustainably because there are so many vested interests. It goes back to a question about ourselves and our responsibility in this house.

Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a book about the house which is the whole of creation (‘The home we build together’). He asks: what kind of house is this: a hotel?

In 2007 Muslim leaders mainly from Middle east and so some really suffering because they are trying to have heard a moderate Muslim voice wrote a letter to the Pope: A Common Word Between Us and You ( It recognised that between these two faiths there were more than 50% of the world’s population. The letter said that if we cannot live in peace then there is never going to be peace.

If we want to reflect on anything that has been said in terms of church attitudes to things, look at the Pope and see what he is doing for he really challenges our behaviour.

A Common Word Between Us and You

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."

"The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity."


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