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Speaking to the Soul: The art of doubt, the barrier of disbelief

Speaking to the Soul: The art of doubt, the barrier of disbelief

This is the second Sunday of Easter, which means it’s “Thomas Sunday.” Today we will hear the story of how Jesus appeared to the disciples—all except Thomas. When he hears about Jesus’s miraculous appearance, he doesn’t believe until he sees with his own eyes.

Yet, when seen without caricature, Thomas has always had a heroic quality to him in my mind. He is willing to admit that he has doubt. He doesn’t keep those doubts to himself, which would have been easier and far more popular. Thomas is willing to give voice to his doubts. And when he gives voice to them, his needs are met. He DOES get to see Jesus. He does get the proof his doubtful mind needs. But remember, in the story we hear today, ALL the apostles were doubtful, or they would not have been afraid. None of them seemed to believe until they too had seen Jesus with their own eyes. Thomas is the one who is willing to admit the emotional crisis that all the apostles are feeling, which manifests itself in the locking of doors of the house where they were staying.

Some would say that we, too, live in a time of doubt. I wonder. Perhaps we should take it a step further. We seem to live in a time of disbelief. Shaped by the modern sensibility, we fear being seen as naïve, gullible, credulous.

Disbelief is the adamant unwillingness to be converted to a new reality, even when presented with evidence. Disbelief is the stopping of the ears to hear that which surrounds us. It is the stubborn rejection of the warnings of a traumatized planet, reeling from tons of pollutants and casual human disregard. Disbelief is the outlawing of any opinions that challenge one’s own beliefs. Disbelief snuffs out the light of inquiry and douses the wick with water.

Doubt, on the other hand, is the oxygen that can make the flame burn brighter. Doubt invites examination, and is willing to adapt to new information. Thomas stands in a long line of doubters in scripture, and none of THEM get the word “Doubting” attached like a title in front of their name. Abraham and Sarai heard the promises of God, and scoffed, even laughed. Gideon put God to all sorts of tests in the Book of Judges. Jeremiah tried to beg off from fulfilling the role of prophet, claiming youth and inexperience. Zacharias responded to the promise of a son with skepticism, and was struck silent.

When Thomas DOES see Jesus and see his wounds as proof, he exclaims “My Lord and My God!” He abandons his skepticism in the face of proof, and states the unthinkable—that Jesus is not just the Son of God, but IS God. Thomas’s doubt has led him further toward being a witness to who Jesus truly is. Thomas is wary, but still open to possibility.

We have much to learn from Thomas, because Thomas reflects the willingness to suspend stubbornness, and to allow the light of mystery to penetrate, bringing him to new understanding and enlightenment, remaking what he has previously known. Thomas may doubt, but he is willing to admit that he does not know everything. He is willing to be shaped and reformed in light of revelation, and to open himself to a new understanding of reality. Thomas is willing to own up to being human.

May we also be willing to doubt. May we be willing to suspend disbelief enough to see and hear what is right before us. May we make a space within our imaginations to receive new truths, allowing them to break in and reshape what we think we know.

Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.

Image: Guercino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



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David Murray

One of the joys of our tradition is there is room for the doubters too.

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