Monday, December 19, 2011

Doubting Thomas: The Essential Twin

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
St. Thomas

Doubting Thomas, at last something I feel qualified to preach about.  Thomas the Apostle was also called Didymus, which means “the twin” in Greek.  Interesting, isn’t it, that in the first community of faith there was one among them who was called to articulate doubt and he was a twin. Doubt is the twin the faith, the brother of believing. It is not the opposite of believing, not the nemesis of believing. Doubt is essential to belief, incorporated into belief.  It requires doubt, as well as its counterpart, belief, to create the whole, complete  and dynamic entity that is the life of faith.

Are you familiar with the T’ai Chi? We sometimes hear it called the Yin-Yang symbol. It is a Taoist symbol, a circle made up of two identical halves, one black and one white, each stretching into the other a little, like two comets dancing around one another. Within each half there is a dot of the other.  So, in the white half, there is a distinct circle of black and within the black there is a matching circle of white.   The two halves, then create a perfect circle, a whole, which is where its name comes from: T’ai Chi translates to “Great Ultimate.”

I think it is a useful image to use when we encounter doubt and belief.  Belief is that brilliant white side, where we are full of confidence and consolation.  But within that brilliant white space there is a small but not insignificant measure of black doubt. And, on the other hand, doubt is that dark place that seems bottomless and engulfs us in despair, but within that darkness is one small but essential circle of light, of belief, present even in the domain of darkness. The whole thing together, the dark and the light, wrapped around one another and also incorporating one another, creates a whole, a complete circle, an entity we call Faith.

Toaists use the image of T’ai Chi to represent the dynamic nature of the Universe.  The Yin signifies rest and the Yang represents movement.  Stasis and progress. Being and becoming. Belief and doubt. As described by Dr. K. K. Yeo, the T-ai Chi embodies the natural state of Creation:  “change, even chaos, is not to be disliked manipulated or feared.  Change produces a life of pilgrimage. It is in that change and pilgrimage that one finds his being, the meaning of existence.”  (Yeo, What has Jerusalem to do with Beijing? 1998, p.98)

Belief and doubt exist in relationship to one another and it is that relationship that keeps them alive. It is the give and take of doubt and belief, the constant movement between one and the other that creates the living and growing and changing whole that is faith.  Believing is part of faith, but it is not all.  If faith and belief were the same thing, we could just rest on our laurels all the time, saying, “I believe and that is all there is.”

But that isn’t what we find in the Scripture.  Thomas questions Jesus. Thomas has doubts.  Not just in our text today but also in John 14 in which Jesus says:
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Doubt opens the door to belief. Doubt articulates what isn’t and in so doing creates an opportunity for belief to articulate what is.  Doubt enlivens belief.  Doubt forces us to confront what we don’t believe, where we can’t go emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. Doubt is a dark place that we try, as a rule to avoid.  But the fact that there is such a dark place means that, within the whole of the Great Ultimate, there is also a light place.  We know there is because in the depths of the darkest place, there is a hint of light. It looks like a dot but it might also be a beam. A beam of light that can draw us back into the light side of belief.  And when we get there we are on firmer footing because we have been in the darkness of doubt, we know it is there and we are never permitted to forget.  There’s a spot of it right here in the light all the time.

This, I think is the most important point to be made.  Because we know even when we are perfectly secure in what we believe, there is always the possibility of doubt. Therefore we also know, just as surely and with just as much resolve, that when we are in the abyss of doubt and it all seems impenetrable darkness, that there is there, as well, the possibility of Belief, the hope of renewal, the essential element that can bring us back to balance.

That is the Great Ultimate, the whole life of faith. And because these two elements are constantly in relationship with one another, a life of faith is never static.  The life of faith is always growing, always changing.  We know well that over the course of our lives we come and go from believing, we come and go from doubt.  And that coming and going is natural, it is essential. It means the life of faith is never stagnant, it is never still, it is never dead.  

Doubting Thomas was a member of the community of faith around Christ.  His words were important enough to be recorded many times over, his legacy of skepticism is preserved thousands of years after other disciples words and actions have been lost to history.  I think this is because even in the community of Jesus, in the presence of the most brilliant, bright and absolute belief, in order for it to be complete, there must be one small but unrelenting dot of doubt. 

I’ll leave you with a little piece of poetry- and it is trite, I apologize - from the Christian Reformed Church from a poem about St. Thomas.:

May we, O God, by grace believe
  and, in believing, still receive
the Christ who held His raw palms out
  and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.
(Thomas Troeger, 1984, Psalter/Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church)