Doubting Thomas”: I think that he’s had a pretty rough press over the years. Particularly from those who want to force others into blindly accepting their interpretation of scripture and the things of God. They point to Thomas, and then quote Jesus’ words about “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”.
(1030: Later in this mass, we will sing the hymn “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus”. It is a great hymn but, every time I sing it, I wince at the line: “Faith believes, nor questions how”. Is that really what faith is all about – a blind, unquestioning acceptance of what others want us to believe?)
I guess that the problem arises is because faith and doubt have been viewed as opposites, whereas they are better understood as close cousins. What we really long for is certainty based on absolute proof. And that we will never get in this life. For the opposite of faith is not doubt: the opposite of faith is proof.
The best summary of this debate that I have ever saw was on television, probably in the 60s. It wasn’t a debate between two theologians or a Bishop being interviewed by a journalist … it was Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
They have been talking about praying to God when they feel ill: “God make me better by Tuesday lunchtime and I’ll know you’re there”. Then, once recovered, you don’t know whether God did it or whether you’d have got better anyway. That led on to a discussion about why God couldn’t make his existence obvious so no one could ever have any doubt:
Pete: I often wish he’d manifest himself a bit more, you know, in the sky.
Doug: It would be nice if every now and again, He parts the clouds in a golden burst of sunshine and gives us a wave: “Hello, I’m here, you can believe in me”
Pete: “Hello, believe me. I’m God”. You’d know where you were. I asked the Reverend Stephens, about this. He said that, much as God would like to keep manifesting himself, He daren’t because it debases the currency you see. He can’t appear more than once every few million years. He can’t go round football matches and fetes and everything … so once in a million years if we’re lucky.
In my 45 years as a Priest, I have never seen any absolute proof of the existence of God. However, what I have seen countless times is the way that folk have been strengthened by their faith and that of others: not only at the great and happy events in their lives, but also at times of sorrow and tragedy. Their faith has sustained mine.
Perhaps what Jesus criticised in Thomas was not so much his demand for proof, but rather his unwillingness to learn from the experience of those other Apostles. For our own faith is encouraged by the example of others, and we should encourage others in their faith.