the address

The Reverend Leo Osborn gave the following address at the thanksgiving service for Colin:

It was St Augustine who said that without doubt there can be no true faith and he was surely right.

The doubts that Thomas expressed in the reading we’ve just heard:  “Lord we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?  are not the only doubts Thomas expressed – hence his nickname.  But there are other doubters scattered throughout St John’s Gospel –  Nathaniel who remarked “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Nicodemus who was incredulous “How can a man be born when he is old?” The Women of Samaria who was sceptical:  “Where can you get this living water?”  The Pharisees who objected: “We have never been slaves to anyone.  How can you say we must be set free?”  Pilate who asked cynically or sincerely depending on your point of view:  “What is truth?”  And some of these came to faith in Christ and about others we have no idea.

Colin Furmage was one who was also filled with doubts as far as Christian faith was concerned and to suggest otherwise would not be doing justice to the person of integrity we remember today.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about matters of faith deeply or that knowing the Christian faith to be true he had turned his back upon it – it was simply that he couldn’t believe, or to be precise didn’t believe there was enough evidence to do so.  And yet this service of thanksgiving for Colin’s life is being held in a Christian church with hymns, prayers and readings that express Christian faith.  How does that square up?  Is this service about God “getting Colin in the end?”  Well no its certainly  not that!  But at John and David’s request it does provide an opportunity for us to reflect for a few moments on faith…… and doubt.

1)  CONFIDENCE – Well I’m very confident I’m not God!  So like St Paul I see through mirror dimly.  But I am confident that the Judge of all earth will do right by Colin and will respect his free-choice to turn away or turn towards God.  Therefore I am more than content to leave it with Him.  To do otherwise would be either presumptuous, judgemental or arrogant.

2)  CONJECTURE – In one of his lesser known books “The Great Divorce” CS Lewis imagines a Day Trip from Hell to Heaven.  All are invited to make the coach trip and to stay in heaven if they so wish but some can’t be bothered to make the journey, others arrive in heaven and for various reasons can’t wait to return to Hell again but some stay captivated by the wonder, music, beauty, warmth and the welcome of Heaven and by the one whom they had not known or recognised before but who now they recognise as Jesus and worship as Lord and God.  And it’s only a story or a parable but it’s a powerful one and maybe some of you will draw strength today from the thought that Colin is on that coach trip and that because beside all else Johann Sebastian Bach is of course the music of heaven Colin will feel at home there!

3)  CHALLENGE – For Colin’s honesty and integrity in matters of faith and doubt seem to me to present a challenge to us all for which we should be deeply grateful.  For instance if we are people of Christian faith how much does our faith mean to us – especially at times like these?  Is there room in our faith for honest doubt?  Does the outworking or the exclusivity of our faith prevent others from coming to faith themselves?  Or if doubt rather than faith best describes us is that because we are unsure or indifferent?  Is it time to think again about what for Colin were literally matters of life and death?  And when we hear the familiar words of Jesus that John read to us:-  “I am the way, the truth and the life” what do we make of such an astounding claim as that?  So let this be the last and the best tribute to Colin that he made us think about what ultimately matters.  As we think of Him with gratitude today we think of his friends and family too – especially John and David and hold them in our love and prayers.

At the end of his own turbulent life where doubt and faith seemed as equally real Frederick Faber came to a point where we could write:-

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.

There’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind.

And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind”.

In that kindness may you all, with Colin, find grace and peace.