Doubt and faith: Healthy tension
Reflection on the Feast of St Thomas, the Apostle
(3 July 2012)
Morning prayer of the Church Evening prayer of the Church
Today is the feast of St Thomas, the apostle. He is popularly dubbed as the ‘doubting Thomas’ because of his unbelief in the appearance of the Risen Christ. We can only hear record of his life as a disciple of Jesus though from John’s gospel. One is when Jesus made the decision to go and ‘wake’ Lazarus up from his ‘sleep’ [i.e. death] in Bethany but to get there they had to go through Judea. To stop him, Jesus’ disciples tried to remind him of the danger of being put to death when he would still go. Yet, He was determined to go no matter what. And it is here that we first heard Thomas saying rightly and quite confidently: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ Another instance is when Jesus told his disciples that he is going ahead of them to his Father’s house and prepare rooms for them there: ‘You know the way to the place where I am going,’ he said. Thomas again, with such practical mindset asked him: ‘ Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ The other instance we can hear of him is in our gospel today. When He was told by his fellow disciples that they saw the risen Lord, he wouldn’t believe in them unless he can touch Jesus’ wounds and his side. He is indeed a very practical man. He seems to have characterised the modern person, who would live on the principle ‘to see is to believe.’
Doubting our faith is not in itself a bad thing. In fact, doubt and faith should be existing in us together. Without doubt, our faith might just lead us to obey blindly, and that has a significant implication in the exercise of our freedom and freewill. However, it has to be put into a right balance. There should be a ‘healthy tension’ between doubt and faith. If we doubt our faith this means that we want to understand it all the more. And the more we dig deeper in our faith, the more we grow into a real, personal and more intimate relationship with our Lord. If we doubt our faith, the more we will be motivated to embrace that greatness of our God that can only be seen quite clearly in and through faith.
How can we put doubt and faith into right balance? How can establish the healthy tension between doubt and faith?
St Thomas would offer us two ways here.
First is to stay with Jesus. Stay with God, rather than turning away from God. We can see and hear people all around us, in every corner of the world who have doubts in their faith, but never stayed with the Lord. Instead, they went away. Many neglected their faith. Many have taken for granted their faith. And even many have left the faith. They should have stayed with Jesus, because he is the surest way to affirm our faith. Only Jesus can make us see the real object of our faith who is God himself and our communion with him in the next life to come. So let’s stay with him.
The Second thing that St Thomas shows us in his life regarding putting faith and doubt into a right balance is by ‘touching’ the wounds of Jesus. Certainly, unlike St Thomas we could no longer touch the wounds of Jesus himself and of his pierced side now [considering that he had walked on this earth personally for over two thousand years already], yet we can see many ‘wounded images of Jesus’ in our immediate surroundings. There are people suffering around us. There are people who have been unjustly treated around us. There are people who are wounded in many ways around us. These are the ‘wounds’ of Jesus on which he is now inviting us to touch and to tend to.
So as we continue our celebration of the feast of St Thomas, let’s thank him for his courage of expressing his doubts in his faith because that led him to his firm and sure belief that Jesus indeed is his ‘Lord and God.’ At the same time let’s also pray that like St Thomas we may grow in our faith by touching ‘the wounds’ of Jesus experienced by many if not all of us in our day and age. Amen.