Balancing Doubt and Certainty

Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples when Jesus showed up. And even though they told him what they’d seen, he had his doubts. So a week later, Jesus popped in again, even though the door was locked. When Thomas stuck his fingers into the nail holes and the spear wound he of course was convinced. To which Jesus remarked “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”paraphrase of JOHN 20:24-30

Both atheists and literalists point to passages like the one above from John to argue that the New Testament is a history text. Literalists take the passage to mean that “believing” is based on nothing more than believing that the physical body of Jesus came back to life. Atheists use it to argue that “believing” requires the suspension of common sense about how the universe works.

Both miss the point.

The Book of John was written as a teaching manuscript. That means that, even more than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the writer expected the audience to become immersed in the text and to reach a more spiritual understanding of the Message of the Christ  

Thomas’ problem wasn’t that he’d “go to hell” if he didn’t believe in a physical Resurrection. It was that, because he doubted our agapé relationship with God, he’d be afraid to live his faith in the transformational way that he was called to do.

It’s a problem we all share.

In order to live our faith we have to be confident in our faith.

Literalists and atheists enjoy the “certainty” that only their position could possibly be right. It’s an either/or way of looking at the world. It’s simplicity can be deceptively appealing.

Those of us who follow the radically inclusive Message of the Christ value the unity within our diversity. But that sometimes leads us to forget that there’s a profound simplicity underlying that diversity. It’s a more profound and enduring simplicity than the most detailed set of doctrines could ever encompass –

God is inseverably one with each of us, and with all of Creation.

Embracing that single understanding can enable us to “move mountains.”

The story of Thomas isn’t about whether or not we believe that a man named Jesus rose from the dead two thousand years ago. It’s about whether we have the confidence to believe, without ever seeing or touching anything – or anyone – material, that God is one with us.

More, it’s about whether or not we have the confidence to get out of our “locked rooms” of daily routine and complacency and to live as the Gospels depict Jesus as living.

It’s one of the hardest parts of being a Christian.

But we have an advantage over those who follow doctrines or dogma, or rely on text books and physical evidence.

We have a living relationship with God.

  • Lois

    I like most of what you write, but I am somewhat uncomfortable with your absolute statements about literalists and atheists. As one who tries to follow Christ and live into the oneness of God, I am uncomfortable being painted with the same brush as all other Christians. We all have different nuances to our relationship with and understanding of God, and while labels can be helpful they also can be divisive and come across as judgemental.

    • David Keating

      Hi Lois
      Thanks for your note and for expressing your concerns. I think that your phrase “live into the oneness of God” makes it pretty clear that you’re not a “literalist” in the way that I use the term in my posts. And I certainly hope that it doesn’t seem like I’m painting all Christians with the same brush since I too am Christian. You are absolutely (no pun intended) right about us each having nuances to our relationship with God.

      It’s also true, I think you’d agree, that the Gospels depict Jesus as having little patience with the priests, scribes, and so on who tried to turn that relationship into nothing more than a list of “dos” and “don’ts”. It’s that group, which still exists today within the institutional church, the scientific community, and of course elsewhere, that I’m thinking of when I use the terms “literalist and atheist.”

      • David Keating

        Having said all that, (and I really need to see about making the comment box longer so we don't have to split discussions into multiple parts) I still want to say thank you again for raising this. I’ll try to make a point of qualifying those terms a little more explicitly as I use them. In fact, your note has also reminded me of an article “stub” I’ve had on the backburner for a while and that might be good try to complete.

        I hope that you’ll continue to read my articles, and to comment as often as you wish.