The value of doubt - St Bride's: Reflection

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The value of doubt

John 20: 24-31

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24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

The value of doubt

The Incredulity of St Thomas - Caravaggio

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Imagine you are waiting at the bus stop for a bus, or setting out to the supermarket to buy food, or jumping into your car to go to an appointment. You might not think it, but each of these everyday actions requires faith, not religious faith, but faith certainly. Faith that the bus will come, faith that the supermarket is open and the shelves full, faith that the car will start. In these mundane ways we all live by faith - faith in the regular working of the structures and operation of society.

Our everyday faith is of course backed up by evidence - the bus has turned up regularity on previous occasions, the car regularly starts when I turn the key and so on - and if we didn't live by faith in the reasonable regularity of existence then we would be in a perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety and probably end up as nervous wrecks. We are used to living by faith.
And yet when the orderliness of existence is interrupted - when the trains don't run on time, when the car won't start, when things don't go according to plan, we become people of doubt. We start to question, to feel anxious, to become sceptical. Faith and doubt go together in human life: most of us are a mixture of both: some of us are temperamentally predisposed to one or the other: Trusting versus optimistic, sceptical versus pessimistic. And in our Gospel reading today we heard about a natural sceptic, a born doubter - the apostle Thomas.

Thomas, a loyal disciple, hadn't been there when Jesus had shown himself to the disciples on the evening of the Resurrection. Thomas was probably a sceptic and a pessimist by nature. He knew that dead men don't walk and he couldn't understand why the others were so excited and so convinced. He certainly wasn't prepared to accept their word for what had happened.
In fact some of the other disciples may well have had just as may doubts as Thomas - he was just the one brave enough to voice his doubts to say openly 'I want convincing evidence, I want to experience Jesus presence for myself, before I am going to believe'.

And so, on the following Sunday, Jesus appeared again when Thomas was there. Thomas brought his doubts with him, a good thing to do, and Jesus invited him to do the very thing he had insisted was necessary. Whether he did or not we don't know. We do know he made the tremendous confession 'My Lord and my God'. Dorothy Sayers once wrote 'It is unexpected, but extraordinarily convincing, that the one absolutely unequivocal statement in the whole Gospel of the divinity of Jesus should come from doubting Thomas.' Doubt for him became the door way to faith: he admitted he didn't believe but joined with those who did and found it was true.

Thomas reminds me of the words of an old saints' day hymn which includes the lines:

They wrestled hard, as we do know
With sins and doubts and fears.

I wonder if we are always as honest as Thomas was, and wrestle with our doubts. I suspect that many of us are afraid of admitting that large areas of our maps of faith are uncharted territory.

Doubt has often been seen, in a Christian context, to be a negative word, something bad, to be ashamed of. On the contrary, I think doubt can be a positive thing, to be embraced. Someone once said 'faith is the acceptance of doubt, not the suppression of it.'

Thomas was honest about his struggles, and Jesus responds with compassion, inviting Thomas to encounter him personally. Thomas is a reminder to us that God meets us where we are in our honest doubts, if we remain open to Him: and that doubt can be a gateway to a deeper faith.
Remember there is a great difference between refusing to trust and struggling to believe. On our struggles we can grow closer to God and be strengthened in our faiths. Faith and Doubt. They belong together. Amen.

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