Sunday 8th April – 9am Worship
Faith and Doubts – Am I the only one? (Post Easter Sermon)
Bible Readings: John 20:19-31
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Let’s play a little game. I’ll say a word, and you tell me its opposite. Don’t be shy, just say the answer.
That last one is tougher isn’t it? What exactly is the opposite of faith? I’m not sure what the best answer is.
• Maybe the opposite of faith is unbelief.
• Often in scripture, it seems that the opposite of faith is fear (“Why do you fear, you of little faith.”)
• I’m not sure that doubt is the opposite of faith.
Many people of faith, actually all people of faith, have times of doubt or areas of doubt in their lives. It seems human to be a little doubtful.
Yesterday I searched the internet for a great example of how we as humans are naturally sceptical. After a deal of searching I kept coming back to a 10-year-old clip of a moment where the world were shaking their heads and going … if I didn’t see it I would not believe it. It’s the clip of Susan Boyle’s first audition on the TV show – Britain’s Got Talent. You probably haven’t watched it in years … but I would like to show it to you again and encourage you to ponder the idea of doubt and belief … where do you see people doubting and where do you see that moment when a person changes to believing. I think that this clip works so well in my sermon that I am willing to give up 5 mins of my sermon to show it.
Would you want to see it? [Show Video]
I love the ending … how one of the judges basically said that we shouldn’t have been sceptical.
The main character in our bible reading today is Thomas. I think that Thomas gets ripped off. Whenever someone mentions Thomas, they don’t just say “Thomas”, they always say “Doubting Thomas” as if there were a bunch of people named Thomas in the Bible and it is necessary to say “Doubting” to get the right one. Actually – Thomas is the only Thomas in the Bible. Just saying Thomas would be enough.
But why is Thomas known for doubting. There is a number of other references to Thomas in the bible, but this is the only one that people seem to remember. Thomas in John 11 is ready to die with Jesus or in John 21 is the one who from the boat sees Jesus on the beach – and yet we don’t call him “Ready to Die with the Lord Thomas” or “Eagle Eye Thomas”? Why must it be “Doubting Thomas”? Even today’s passage closes with a statement of faith from Thomas. Why isn’t it “Believing Thomas”?
Actually – if we really want to get technical Thomas’s real name is Judas, but to save confusion with the other Judas, he is referred to by his nickname … the twin or Thomas in Aramaic or “Didymus” in Greek. However, all of this doesn’t matter because he is now known forever as doubting Thomas.
And we say it in such a way that what Thomas did was really bad – that doubts are something evil that we should always avoid. I’m not completely sure that Thomas quite deserves the branding that he gets.
Let’s explore this Easter story a bit… The events of Jesus arrest & execution throws the disciples completely. We read in the bible that all the disciples scatter – they ran away. Thomas was no exception. But slowly over Saturday some of the disciples get back together and when Jesus appears to them on Sunday night all the disciples are there except for Thomas. Our bible reading doesn’t explain why Thomas is not there … Maybe Thomas just didn’t know where the disciples had gathered. May he ran right back to his home town in Galilee and did not come back until he realized that none of the others had run that far. We don’t know why … we just know that Thomas was not there and misses the experience of seeing the risen Jesus in their midst.
That is why is it is so important for us to be regularly gathering together as a community of faith – because when Christian get together, the risen Christ is in our midst. I had a lady in my first church who said to me, “I have to come to church every week because I don’t want to miss anything that God is doing here.”
Thomas missed seeing the risen Jesus and then comes across as the pure sceptic. He knows these people well. He would gladly entrust any of them with his life. Still, he can’t imagine that what they are saying is true. They must have hallucinated or something.
This is where Thomas get’s his bad rap from. We think that because Thomas doesn’t outright believe the other disciples he is a doubter and a very naughty boy. But I actually think that Thomas addresses his doubts well.
Look at how he works through this. He brings it into the open. He isn’t hostile or unpleasant or sarcastic. He just doesn’t believe it and he says so. He says “show me.”
He also doesn’t leave the group. He doesn’t say, “That’s stupid” and walks away. He hangs in there and gives things time to work themselves out.
He is not stubborn in his stand. He is willing to believe, he just has to be shown.
Actually, Thomas is not alone when it comes to asking questions because of nagging doubts. Abraham, the father of faith, laughed in disbelief when God promised to make him a father when he was nearly 100 years old. Gideon literally put out a fleece before he trusted God. Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego, when faced with the threat of being thrown into the fiery furnace for not worshipping King Nebuchadnezzar, replied with the amazing statement of faith, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand”. But do you know the next sentence. They say, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not worship the image of gold you have set up.” Even in amazing statement of faith there can be doubts. This is shown best in Mark 9 where the father of a troubled child cries out, “Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”
Can you see that doubt and faith are not mutually exclusive. Actually I would argue that doubt is part and parcel of a growing faith.
Doubt can be like a fork in the road. We can use our doubt as an opportunity to mature our faith and grow in our relationship, or we can use it as an excuse to isolate ourselves and pull away. “Doubting Thomas” became “Believing Thomas” because he stayed with the other disciples in spite of his doubts. He was rewarded with a closer knowledge of Christ.
When Jesus appeared a week later, Thomas’ doubts were addressed and he was able to make that amazingly personal statement of faith – “My Lord and My God”.
Just because Thomas had proof did that mean his faith was now lessened? I don’t so … I would agree that it was because Thomas was willing to be open with his doubts and ask the questions that his faith was strengthened.
Now I know that Jesus said in our bible reading, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” but I don’t think that expressing the doubts and wanting some answers is a bad thing. If we go back to the video that I showed about Susan Doyle at the beginning … she said that he was good – that she wanted to be a professional singer – and put herself in the same level as Elaine Page, who at the time was the best musical performer on London’s West End.
Now the judges and audience were sceptical – actually they openly doubted. They basically said to Susan … prove it … and she did prove it. But if they had faith and trusted Susan’s words … if they said, “Well if you are that good then don’t bother singing … you get three ticks from us and you’re through to the next round” … if they had no doubts then they would not have had the amazing experience of hearing her sing. To me there has to be a balance. It all comes down to how we deal with our doubts.
Judas Iscariot when he had doubts about Jesus walked away. He took the 30 pieces of silver and gave up. Thomas when he had doubts was honest with them. He asked questions, he looked for some answers, and he found them and his doubts helped grow his faith.
So where does this leave us now? Well, I want to encourage that if you have faith questions, if you are struggling with issues, if you have doubts (which is probably all of us here) … then hear me clearly … that does not mean you do not have faith. Faith and doubts are not mutually exclusive.
Learn from honest Thomas. Let’s talk about our doubts. Let’s` search for answers. Let’s make sure that we are growing in our faith. I want this church to be a place where you can be honest with faith questions. I believe that God is big enough to handle any question we throw at him.
But just in finishing, I have to come back to faith. You see, we don’t always find the answers – we ask the questions, we are honest about our doubts, we wonder why little kids get sick, or why bad things happen, or whatever our issue is … and despite our searching we find no answer. That’s when we need faith. We accept it even though we don’t understand it. We believe in God even when it doesn’t make sense. We will continue to worship God even though we are not sure if we are going to survive the fiery furnace of life.
None of us here have ever seen the risen Jesus physically standing before us … and yet even in our doubts and questions we believe that Jesus is alive and with us here now and maybe we can like Thomas can proclaim Jesus as our saviour and our Lord. Amen.