19. May 2019

Born Again but Doubt – Filled

Service Type:

‘…But Some Doubted…’ (Matthew 28, 17b)

B.A., B.D., Standard academic qualifications for your average Welsh Baptist Minister of a previous generation – which some wit described as, ‘Born again, but doubtful’. Thomas, so-called ‘doubting Thomas’ has been done to death as far as sermonising is concerned. Thomas never ‘doubted’; he just wanted to be sure for himself. He wanted to see what others had seen, to hear what others had heard, to touch the hands…to be sure for himself. Why should Thomas take their word for it? But of course, Thomas was in a unique situation…He was able to ‘see’ for himself. None of us is able to ‘see’ for ourselves, but we can ‘believe’ for ourselves. The Christian faith, the Christian life is not a way of being that can be imposed upon one person by another; Christianity is no ‘tick box’ religion. It is of course the duty of every Christian to seek to introduce the Christian faith to others by every means possible, but in the end, every person has to ‘believe what they believe’. Indeed, as we journey through life, what we believed ‘once upon a time’, we may well no longer believe in the precise same way; we may believe now what we believed then, but ‘differently’. ‘When I was a child…but now I have put away childish things.’ The old certainties swept away on the flood tide of experience…

‘…The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night…’

…Of course it doesn’t have to be like this, Matthew Arnold’s profound pessimism is not the only solution to a so-called crisis of faith… The tide both ebbs and flows, and so it is with the ‘tide of life’…

“In truth, Thomas was being a faithful disciple of Jesus, who [had Himself] warned His disciples that “many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray” Jesus affirms those who believe without seeing because such belief takes great faith. But we should [not] ignore the evidence [of our eyes] when it is available, as [if to do] so makes us more faithful. This impulse…not only neglects God’s command to love him with our minds, but [can]…blind us to the deeper truth of Scripture…We must be honest with our uncertainties. While we should never throw around doubt with rebellious defiance, neither should we view genuine questions and uncertainties as liabilities…Questioning deeply held beliefs opens us up to discovering that [maybe] we were in error, & offers us an opportunity for more a faithful understanding…[Or] we may discover our fears are unfounded, & return to our former [way of] believing without doubt, yet stronger for it.” (Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick, [alt]).

That is why I am drawn to the almost casual comment found in the reading we heard earlier. The disciples, and others, going with the risen Christ immediately prior to the Great Commission and His subsequent ascension, and the writer notes, ‘But some doubted’. No gathering of Christians, no Sunday congregation is complete without ‘some who doubt’. Why? Because all of us have our doubts from time to time. Even the minister has his or her doubts. Only some of us, mind you; not many, not a lot, but at least some. Don’t imagine for a moment that there is anyone here this morning who has not entertained doubts concerning faith and its implications for living. The Church cannot demand of anyone that they conform to a particular pattern of believing, that they sign up to any particular statement of faith; neither it is not for anyone of us to judge another. The act of worship is not so that, under God, we can be reminded by the so-called ’powers at be’ what to believe and how to live. ‘God really is larger than the creeds’…

’faith is about being held by God, in love and service. Faith is about God letting ourselves be addressed by what God has to say to us. Faith can never be rigidly self-certain.’ (John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church.[alt])

The Christian faith, if it is to be anything at all, serves to remind us that we called into a relationship with God and with the world such that we are able to realise who we are under God; dethroning our self-centred arrogance, denying our self-defining certainty, defeating our self-imposed authority; not to punish us, but to save us from the inevitable consequences that will befall us…’The wages of sin is death’….

“The earthquake, however, must be to every one a most impressive event: the earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power.”(Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle).

Some doubted. Some of us have our doubts. None of us can ever be that sure.