Read this this morning:
“Dubious questioning”, wrote Coleridge, “is a much better evidence than that senseless deadness which most take for believing. People that know nothing…have no doubts. Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the truth.”
“Doubting Thomas” is the uncomplimentary title that Thomas has often been tagged with. But it would be more accurate, I think, to call him Honest Thomas. He was a man of integrity; he didn’t pretend to believe things that he didn’t really; he didn’t say the words just to feel part of the crowd. It’s much harder to own up to being the odd one out among a group of friends, and it was brave, when he found that he was the odd one out, not to go off and be by himself. For a whole week he went on meeting up with the other disciples. Their faith and stories of visions must have made him feel uncomfortable and left out. But he still hung around. Eventually, Jesus came and met him in person. His integrity paid off; when faith came to him as a gift, it was his own and not someone else’s. (go read Maggi Dawn’s entire post)
After Thomas’ confession of faith, Jesus says: “”Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It’s easy to think, perhaps, that what is implied is that Thomas was wrong for doubting or perhaps that faith without seeing is better than faith after seeing. But I’m not sure that Jesus is making a qualitative statement about Thomas’ belief. Thomas wasn’t censured for his doubt.
I read this afternoon:
… those moments in life when awareness of God breaks through the crust of our routines — a burst of praise, a pang of guilt, an episode of doubt, boredom in worship… (Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles)
It has nothing to do with the context of Peterson’s words (which are from a chapter on spiritual direction), but the description of “an episode of doubt” as a “moment in life when awareness of God breaks through” really struck me. I had never thought about doubt in that way before: as a time when we become more aware of God. (Is that ironic? I’m reluctant to say it is.)
But it’s true, isn’t it? When we have our times of doubt, it’s God we think about and are obsessed about: are you really there? In times of certainty, so far as that is possible, a person much more occupied with other things and not with God. (The corresponding period of awareness is the ‘moment of clarity’, from which a “burst of praise” may come forth). In a sense, then, periods of doubt are a healthy thing, spiritually speaking, because they slap us across the face and awaken us from our stupor, our apathy, our lukewarmness.
Getting back to Thomas: I like Maggi Dawn’s image of a somewhat uncomfortable Thomas meeting with the disciples, even though he did not share their conviction about the risen Christ. When times of doubt come along, it does not mean that faith is absent or lost and that I should immediately leave for another faith, but simply that questions have arisen for which I don’t have an answer. An answer will eventually come; or perhaps I will accept not knowing, accept the fact of mystery. (I don’t mean to suggest that if an answer doesn’t come we must just accept not knowing, but that one or the other may well happen.)
Time for a sappy analogy (I don’t know why I do this): Moments of doubt are not cause to abandon the good ship Faith–the hull hasn’t yet been breached and if you stay with the ship you may well come through the storm much stronger.