Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thomas - the greatest apostle of them all

Victor Meldrew’s cry of “I don’t belieeeve it!” from the hugely popular tv series “One Foot in the Grave” struck a reassuring chord with many in this country, characturing perfectly the now infamous British reserve!  People who loved the series found an ally in him, through his frustration with the modern world, it’s technology, and with life especially in retirement.  His catch-phrase would most often get an airing when he was forced to face the things he disliked, distrusted, and doubted.  It didn’t matter whether that was people or things that make the contemporary world much more immediate, perhaps even things that you and I take so much for granted, like the telephone.  His quiet frustrations turn so quickly to ‘I don’t belieeeve it!’ exposing what he really felt.

It’s true though.  W e don’t like to show others that we cannot cope with life.  So often the life we show the outside world day to day with our work colleges, family and friends, is often one of calm in controlness.  But from time to time we can have our feathers ruffled by the simplest things like a conversation with a friend, an article in the newspaper, or the video not working, and it’s then that we show that underneath we maybe struggling to make sense of our world with it’s changing patterns of family life, society, values, politics and dare I say faith.

Belief and uncertainty or doubt are the yin-yang, the polar opposites, of all of our lives at one point or another. Many who are desperate to believe to share religious faith, wrestle with doubt, question reality, and yet can’t bring themselves to put to one side something so dearly cherished. Many cannot live with faith and yet cannot live without it.

But is doubt a bad thing?  Personally, I see doubt as not only healthy but essential to the Christian life. If more religious people doubted, perhaps the world would be a slightly saner place?

Even as I speak there is news of yet another Iraqi suicide bomber blowing himself up along with any fellow Iraqi or Coalition forces unfortunate enough to be within striking distance. I wonder how many suicide bombers would blow themselves up if they doubted the promises of a martyr’s paradise?

The opposite of doubt is certainty, and yet there can be no room for it in any religion. Give a man or woman certainty and there can be no room for faith, for faith is hope in what is not seen. We can live faith for it is open, endless and eternal. Does not ‘hope spring eternal’? Give certainty and we risk sowing the seeds of arrogance, bigotry, and fundamentalism.

Those with faith, I believe stand much more chance of living in harmony because they recognise within others a seeking after truth and a quest for answers to those illusive eternal questions; the truly faithful recognise that faith is but a tradition to build on and live by.

This Sunday's Gospel reading mentions Thomas - one of Jesus’ 12 disciples - encounter with the Risen Christ.  Imagine the scene, he, like the other disciples, was suddenly thrown into fear and confusion after the man he knew to be God’s son and capable of the most amazing miracles who was set to re-establish Israel both politically and spiritually on the world stage - driving out the Roman occupiers of the land and restoring the eternal presence of God with His people - this man had been captured, arrested, and condemned to death on the cross.  His mission, his vision all had gone wrong.  The day after these terrible events, other disciples of Jesus come excitedly shouting about having seen him alive.  For Thomas, all talk of Jesus his leader, Master, saviour and friend, rising from the dead was just cheap talk, a slap in the face, bittersweet words of comfort in the face of shocking grief.  Could you blame him for doubting?  I certainly can’t.

Thomas is also known as the greatest disciple.  He later meets with the risen Jesus himself, seeing the scarred body with his own eyes and touching it with his own hands.  There is no question, this is Jesus.  Thomas who has withheld himself utterly from the hope Jesus offers, imprisoned by doubt, gives himself utterly, and finds himself freed and he utters the profoundest statement of faith - my Lord and my God, as in the risen Jesus Thomas recognised both.  Thomas finds faith, through belief transformed by doubt.

There are many today who stand at the threshold of faith and say with Victor Meldrew and St. Thomas - I don’t believe it; who ask the profoundest questions; is it all true?  Can we believe it?  The Risen Jesus does not ask any of us to believe in him.  If we begin to explore the depths of the Christian faith we are not suddenly asked to sign on the dotted line in blood assenting to believing everything about the faith - we are not asked by Jesus to verify or falsify what the Bible says as FACT.  Neither though can we simply place what the Christian holds dear into the same category as belief in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy, beautiful stories that enrich but do not change our lives.  Jesus says to us as he said to Thomas and those first disciples ‘Come follow me!’ and that means you if you have lots of faith or little; with questions answered and thousands not.  Faith is not about certainty or lack of doubt, but it is about hope and the future.  Hope is what Thomas saw in the Risen Jesus - my Lord and my God - and it is what he offers us when we come to him in honest doubt today.  So what about the Christian faith, can any of what we claim be true - I don’t believe it, but I have faith that it is.

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