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A strong faith is forged from doubt


Je4740840931641340fd3msus' moral teaching is so beautifully summed up in the Beatitudes from his Sermon on the Mount, seven sayings strung together all beginning with "Blessed (or happy) are … the merciful… the peacemakers… the pure in heart" etc.

Jesus turned inside out the expectations of his hearers, and gave us a blueprint for Christian living.

But one Beatitude, the eighth, seems to have been held over and spoken after his resurrection as if it was a kind of endowment to those who, like ourselves, came later to believe in him: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe".

It was St Thomas, whom the Church remembered last Thursday, who drew out this extra blessing from Jesus. Yes, 'doubting Thomas', who had to see with his own eyes that Jesus was risen from the dead before he would believe.

Poor Thomas has had a bit of a bad press over the centuries, but I don't think he was the scornful 'pooh-pooh-er' of the catchphrase he is associated with. It seems he was a man who liked to get his facts right first, and surely Jesus' resurrection took some believing, especially on hearsay.

When Jesus earlier was explaining to his disciples that he was going away, and that the disciples knew where he was going, it was Thomas who blurted out that they did not know the way, and how could they be expected to, leading Jesus to explain: " I am the way, the truth and the life".

Thomas needed to be sure what Jesus meant.

We are told that Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room after his resurrection, and he found it hard to believe the experience of the others. Most of us would have felt the same. Next time Thomas was with them when Jesus appeared, and Jesus called him closer to inspect his wounds from the cross.

Thomas was immediately convinced and made that wonderful confession of faith, "My Lord and my God".

There are many people today like Thomas, who would like to believe but have shelved their faith, for lack of any factual experience. In my philosophy finals at university there was one question I shall always remember. It was: "What is a fact?". It was the hardest question I ever had to answer. I suppose the people I am referring to, like me in that exam, don't really know what they mean by facts, but they are searching after truth.

Many Christians have periods of doubt, which are agonising. But the experience of the saints is that it is better to face doubt, than to try to bury it, or shelve it. I have always thought that faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin: they are so closely related. In fact doubt is not in itself unbelief, though it can become unbelief if not resolutely faced.

Many of the greatest saints went through long periods of doubt in their lives. St John of the Cross writes in his "Dark Night of the Soul" of a 30-year period of torturing doubt, and it does seem as if faith is finally stronger in a person who has been through doubt.

I know when I was a hospital chaplain, and talking to every patient, I often had more common ground with the thinking agnostic who sees the problems and difficulties in life but cannot find a way that makes sense of it all, than I had with the person who signed 'C of E' in the book and just took things for granted. It is surely better to have an open mind than one that has never been opened, but it is better still to have faith.

It may be that the greatest faith is the faith that has been forged out of doubts, which have been faced. But faith is not just abstract theory. It's more of an act of will. It was Studdart Kennedy, the first world war chaplain in the trenches, who said that faith was "betting your life there is a God".

The great thing about Thomas is that, although he had doubts, he still met with the fellowship the next Sunday. He could not have felt like it, with all the others talking about seeing Jesus. But by an act of will he went, and his doubts were dispelled. So the message to us is that if we go through doubt, we should continue to pray, to worship with others, for faith is more to do with the will than with feelings or the intellect.

It was the sight of Christ's wounds that brought Thomas to his declaration of faith. He saw the same Lord who had suffered and died. The cross is a powerful symbol in moving us to faith. Affluence insulates us from suffering, and blinds us to the insecurity of our daily lives. "There are no atheists in rubber dinghies," someone said. Faith comes more readily to those who live on the edge of things, in crisis and in danger.

Was anything more moving than the recent television pictures of black immigrants from other African

countries who had been so viciously attacked by South African blacks, having just lost loved ones and possessions, as they fled a second time, turning so naturally to prayer and hymn-singing?

By courtesy of EDP24