The Incredulity of St Thomas – Caravaggio, 1601-1602
Everyone has doubts. Believers have doubts of all kinds whether they admit them or not. I have doubts even about some of the strongest convictions I possess. As in many things, there are two ditches on either side to fall into.
Often, doubt is seen as the deadly enemy of true faith. If we have uncertainty then our faith is not strong or it is failing. The existence of doubt, however, is not what makes or breaks true discipleship. Rather it is how doubt is walked through, handled, wrestled with. After the Lord’s rising, Thomas famously doubted the truth of it. Instead of wallowing in doubt, Thomas sought after truth and ended up making an amazing confession: My Lord and my God! Doubt was not the antithesis of his faith but was part of his path of discipleship. Doubting Thomas becomes Saint Thomas after all. So we need not avoid or deny struggles with doubt we may have. The struggling part, though, is not to be overlooked.
Jesus does not condemn Thomas’ uncertainty, but neither does he commend it. The second ditch to fall into is a notion that to doubt or be uncertain is somehow to be more authentic or “real”. Sometimes an aura of depth is cast upon the one who is perpetually in doubt – that’s depth as in, “oh that’s so deep, man!” Christian books are written lionizing doubt, and a virtue is made of never being certain of God or truth. These books are trendy (or at least were in 2008 or so). I fear, though, that this is a false virtue and a cheap illusion of depth. Thomas’ virtue is in his confession after doubt – not in perpetually staying in it. As Matthew Milliner pointed out (in probably the best blog post ever – READ IT!) wrestling with difficult questions is “…called normative Christian maturation” but “perpetuating those questions indefinitely, however, is another thing entirely: Frozen adolescence.”
The Bible does not condemn doubt and Thomas’ path shows that. But neither does it commend it as though it were, in and of itself a mystical state.
The apostle James has nothing nice to say about doubt: But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8).
And what does the Apostle Jude prescribe for doubt and doubters? Mercy. (v22) As a pastor who chats with those, inside and outside my congregation, I always must remember to be merciful on doubts, uncertainty, and wrestling matches with difficult questions. Always reminding myself that this could be someone’s path to greater maturity or to the loss of vibrant faith. And that I could be wrestle with the same sort in my own walk with God.
Does it ever occur to us though, when we doubt, to ask for mercy? Rather than condemn or congratulate ourselves for it?