Thursday, July 03, 2014

Doubting With Thomas

Today is the Feast Day of St Thomas.

Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, is commonly known as ‘Doubting Thomas,’ after the account on John’s Gospel (John 20:24-29) where Thomas refuses to believe the resurrection on second-hand experience, and Jesus tells him ‘Do not doubt but believe.’

The Story of Doubting Thomas is a Tale that contains a Moral: doubt is inappropriate for those who follow Jesus; is incompatible with faith.

Except that Jesus didn’t deal in morality tales. If that is how we understand ‘Do not doubt but believe’ then – as so often – we have misunderstood Jesus’ words.

Doubt is not incompatible with faith, but has an essential role to play in faith. Doubt moves us beyond the known and creates the space within which we have a transforming encounter with Jesus.

Following Jesus’ death, the other disciples are hiding together in one place. Thomas is not with them: he doubts the wisdom of their decision, a decision that makes it possible for all of the key leaders of the Jesus-followers to be arrested in one raid. While they lock themselves away, Thomas trusts himself into God’s hands and steps out…

Unless we can doubt that we know all, or know for certain, or know better than others; unless we can doubt that the world ends at the horizon (which may be as near as four walls); unless we can doubt that we have done all that God has in mind for us … we cannot unlearn and learn anew; cannot go beyond the familiar and comforting; cannot present ourselves as available to Jesus, to be sent by him.

When Jesus says ‘Do not doubt but believe’ he is not saying Doubt is Wrong, but, this particular doubt has served its purpose, has found its goal, has become the place of encounter: you can let it go now, because I have responded to that doubt and opened up for you a new way of believing.

You can let it go now, and that will free you up to take on a new doubt.

If the demands of Thomas’ doubt were inappropriate, Jesus would not have met them – indeed, he not only meets them, he meets them exactly and fully. And the resurrection accounts make it clear that Thomas was not the only disciple who doubted, nor this the only encounter that doubt opened up.

Thomas will go all the way to the south of India, planting churches as he goes. I would suggest that he goes not because he has overcome his doubts, or in spite of his doubts, but led by his doubts. While the others – who will all receive the commission to go out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth – remain in Jerusalem, Thomas doubts that this is all that Jesus has in mind for him, doubts that this is the only or best place within which he might serve.

I would suggest that Thomas’ progression from Jerusalem to the south of India is a series of doubts which open up a new space and are then fulfilled, to be succeeded by a new doubt fulfilled in its turn.

Without doubt there is no possibility of repentance – a change of mind – and without repentance it is not possible to believe in a new way. There is only the self-imposed locked room.

The Epistle reading for today speaks of God building us – collectively - into a holy temple, a dwelling-place for God. Is it possible that doubt, transformed, is key in expanding those walls?

Today is the Feast Day of St Thomas. The patron saint of those who embrace the gift of doubt, the role of the Doubter.

What will you doubt today?

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