Lets be like Thomas; doubt and certainty in one

I wasn’t always a Christian. I first came to know Christ at age 14 and was heavily involved in the church, eventually assisting the vicar with the services and I also did a lot of Bible readings for the services. But something happened when I was about 18 that led to a lot of questions but very few answers, and I was in quite major financial trouble. By 22 I made a decision to sort out the problems and eventually walked away from the Christian faith. But I never stopped questioning and challenging and after moving to Oxford in 2008, I got to know a Christian couple who went on to become very good friends of mine and came back to Christ in their front room. My whole faith journey has been built on asking questions, expressing doubts, challenging views, getting answers then repeat. So it will come as no surprise that my favourite character in the Bible is Thomas.

I like Thomas but I was being taught that we don’t want to be like Thomas, because Thomas doubted Jesus and that doubt is the enemy of faith. How much of that is actually true though? Did Thomas really doubt Jesus and are we really expected to have no doubts at all in order to have faith?

The main story that seems to have earned Thomas his reputation is in Johns gospel, specifically chapter 20 verses 19-31, but this isn’t the only passage where Thomas is asking questions. In John 14, when Jesus is telling the disciples he’s off to prepare a place for them, Thomas pipes up “Uh, Lord? We don’t know where you’re going so how can we know which way?” Jesus gave him an answer,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him

Now, when Phillip, one of the other disciples chimes in with “Show us the Father that will be enough for us” Jesus reacts very differently; Phillip is given a serious rebuke, “How can you ask such a question? Don’t you know me? Believe me when I say I am with the Father, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” Keep that last bit in mind “believe on the evidence of the works themselves” because we’re going to come back to it.

Thomas also makes an appearance in John 11 which covers the death of Lazarus; Jesus is telling the disciples that he needs to go back to Judea. The disciples are like “You’re joking right? They tried to kill you last time and now you want to go back?” This is a justified reaction to be fair but Thomas, the doubter, the one we’re not supposed to be like, steps up and says “Come on guys, let’s go with him so that if he dies, we’ll all die with him”. It seems that Thomas was going to make sure that Jesus didn’t die alone. These 2 events capture Thomas perfectly; expressing doubts and asking questions but also showing complete faith by being willing to stand with Jesus no matter what.

So lets bring all this together as we look at John chapter 20. Verses 19-20 says;

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord

So Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his side and then they believed. Now, we know from verse 24 that Thomas was not with the other disciples so he’s not seen Jesus since he died on the cross. We pick the story up at verse 25:

The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Who is Thomas doubting at this point? He’s doubting what he’s being told by the other disciples and again, you can’t really blame him. Living in the first century under the rule of the Roman Empire, he’s know enough about crucifixion to know that unless they get a pardon, whoever goes up on that cross isn’t coming down alive. He has enough knowledge of biology and experience of life to know that dead people stay dead. So what has he asked for? Nothing more than the other disciples got; to see Jesus, to see the marks in his side and his hands.

So verses 26-28:

A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

What an affirmation from Thomas; my Lord, my God!. Thomas didn’t come to that place despite his doubts, he got there because of them. He was honest about his doubts and Jesus let him face them, allowing him to believe on the evidence of the works themselves as Jesus said back in John 14. The evidence that Christ had risen was him standing in front of them. Now, we don’t have that, we don’t have Christ physically standing before us which brings me onto verse 29:

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

We haven’t seen Jesus physically risen as I said, but what do we have? The Gospels. John tells us in verses 30 and 31:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Luke says something very similar in the opening of his account. Now this can lead to the question “how do we know the Gospels are reliable”, and my response is “Yes, great question. Let’s look at that and have a discussion”. This leads onto other questions about the Bible because there are so many translations and interpretations, and we need to check what we are being told. This brings us onto the last passage I want to look at briefly which is Mark 16 verse 14:

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Now, this passage is slightly contentious because it is part of verses 9-20 which don’t appear in early manuscripts and pretty much all Bibles have a footnote or some disclaimer saying as such, so that raises a set of its own questions. But who is Jesus referring to specifically when he said ‘those who had seen him’? The other disciples? The women at the tomb? All of the above? Does this mean we should automatically accept what we’re told regardless? This seems very dangerous as one US pastor found out when he took verse 18 and went with it without question;

they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

The pastor was ultimately bitten by the snake and died from the poison. We humans are flawed, our understanding is never 100% correct 100% of the time. We have to question things, otherwise we can end up doing things that are incredibly harmful to ourselves and others. It can also lead to great social changes. It was doubting the then current understanding of scripture that led William Wilberforce to lead cry’s for the slavery laws to be abolished. It was his expression of those doubts that caused others to take another look at scripture and then join the cause.

So what is Jesus talking about in that passage in Mark? I don’t know, it’s one of those things I wrestle with and what is our journey with God if not a wrestling match? Plus, it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘I don’t know’ because faith is not an expression of certainty, it’s an expression of vulnerability. It says ‘I don’t know if I can do this, but I know you’re with me Lord.’ It says ‘I can see all the pain, all the injustice, but I’m holding on.’ Too often we’re told questions and doubts are signs of spiritual weakness. They really aren’t, they lead to a richer spiritual experience and understanding as we explore and walk closer with God. Certainty is no guarantee that you’re with Jesus. Peter was certain in John 13:37; he said “I’ll lay down my life for you” and Jesus said “Really? When it’s all said and done you’re going to deny me 3 times.”

I found a quote from Archibald Macleish, who was an American poet and Librarian of Congress which says, “Religion is at it’s best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at it’s worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.” When Jesus said, “how can you take the speck out of someone’s eye when you have a plank in yours”, he was about asking us to take a long hard look at ourselves and our faults. How can we start doing something as huge as looking at our faults if we’re not even willing to start the process of doubting what we currently believe about certain things? Doubt is an inevitable part of that process. To quote Claus Westermann;

Where God’s words penetrate a man’s life and are taken seriously there are certain to be struggles and remonstrations and defeat; doubt and temptation also inevitably occur.

There are always things we are going to be certain of though. I’m certain in what I’ve said to you today and that doubting is not wrong and that nothing is beyond reproach. But doubt is not the same as unbelief, it’s a state between beliefs; so if you find yourself doubting, know that you are in good company and that it’s perfectly fine to be there. Jesus will be in there too, as he was with Thomas and as you walk with him with your doubts; and God is not going to be angry with you. Be ready to go places you were never expecting to go and be prepared for some conflict as you end up somewhere different to someone else. Doubts are only dangerous if we make them something to be ashamed of and we insist upon remaining distant from those who doubt and hold different beliefs. Like a splinter, pretending it doesn’t exist or thinking you are wrong for having one isn’t going to solve the problem and it can become infected if not treated.  Making people ashamed is the easiest way to get them to leave their doubts unchecked.

One final thing before I wrap this up; Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit before ascending. How can it be allowed to move, work, guide, show us something new, if we cling so tightly so our certainties and reject anything that contradicts them? It is through doubting that we grow, that we can walk closer with Jesus. Doubts are what make our faith our own, are what lead us closer to truth. It is impossible to be concerned with truth unless you’re genuinely open to the possibility that what you currently believe is wrong. There’s no 2 ways about it.

There’s so much more I want to say but I will end with this. I had my doubts, I still do and if I hadn’t explored them and wrestled with them, and still do so, I wouldn’t be a Christian now. We saw with Thomas that yes, he had his doubts but he was still willing to die with Jesus and that’s what ultimately happened to him when he was killed in India spreading the gospel. This is what we are supposed to be willing to do. I think we could do a lot worse than to be like Thomas. His doubts didn’t get in the way of following Jesus, and neither did they go away afterwards, indeed they were part of what allowed him to make such sacrifices because he explored, he doubted, he learned, he grew through those doubts and ultimately came closer to Jesus as a result.

 

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Ex-Christian, non-Christian; get over it

Whilst the article was originally written back in February, this piece written by Max Andrews appeared in my Twitter feed and attempts to argue that the term “ex-Christian” is not only incoherent, but apostasy (geez, some Christians love to throw that word around) His argument is as follows:

So, the problem with Ex-Christians is that they never were saved to begin with. At least, they cannot consistently claim to once be saved and now not. To say that one was once saved and now not saved because of apostasy is simultaneously affirming a truth claim on one hand while denying the same claim on the next hand. Any Ex-Christian must say that they were never actually saved or born again because they couldn’t have been if they believe it to be false.

Now I don’t have a PhD from Edinburgh (or anywhere for that matter) but the article doesn’t seem to make much sense.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ, that’s what the term means. Christians follow Him because we believe he is the Son of God and that he died and rose again. We also trust Him with our lives, we believe he is trustworthy. Indeed the Greek word for faith used in the New testament is Pistis; and it carries the same meaning as fides:

Belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same fidelity, faithfulness the character of one who can be relied on

Even the dictionary definition of faith has a similar definition:

Complete trust or confidence in someone or something

So what happens when that trust is broken? What happens when we stop believing Christ is trustworthy? You’re not going to follow someone you don’t trust, so you stop following Him and by the definition of a Christian you are an ex-Christian. You trusted Christ, now you don’t. Trust can be broken for a multitude of reasons, and we can debate until the second coming whether they are good reasons, but given the relational aspect of Christianity, everyone’s reasons will be based on their own personal experience of Christ and events often force perceptions to change. This doesn’t mean that because you’ve changed your mind that you didn’t believe in the first place; Even with the relationship aspect to one side it doesn’t mean that.  If I was a young earth creationist and believed the earth was 6000 years old, then changed my belief to the earth is billions of years old, that doesn’t mean I was never a young earth creationist. My reasons have changed, I am ex-whatever I was. This happens all the time in life, why is it hard to think that it can happen with faith?

This will inevitably raise the question of salvation which is the focus on Max’s article. Now it’s true  that God may indeed change us, but that is a process that can take a long time and may not be fulfilled this side of heaven (we don’t all get to have a “Paul on the road to Damascus” conversion moment) Max’s whole article comes across as an exercise in tribalism; If you’re one of us, you never leave. If you leave, you were never one of us” as one commenter on my Facebook page put it. This is rampant in fundamentalism as justification to shun those they don’t agree with, especially those who have left the fold and to apply pressure through emotional blackmail to get them back. Salvation is between an individual and Christ and Christ was quite clear no one goes through the father except through him (which is not the same as saying only Christians go to heaven) as well as being clear that calling yourself a Christian is no guarantee you’ll get to heaven either (Matthew 7:21-23)

Ultimately Max demonstrates a breathtaking lack of understanding as to why people believe and the kind of journey’s they go through in their life and faith. Not everyones story and faith and the same. He takes the easy option of simply dismissing those stories as “well you were never a Christian then” which I’m sure would not have led to his many honours had he taken the same approach to his studies. Trying to usurp Christ in passing judgement over who is/isn’t a Christian, is not only dangerous but probably apostasy as well.

If an atheist made this argument (and I did have an atheist say to me I was never an atheist) Christians would tear them apart and rightly so, it’s total nonsense and remains so even when said by people with PhD’s.

I would like to apologise if you now have Monty Pythons dead parrot sketch in your head.

One small step for me, one giant leap for the church (or vice versa)

I actually made it to church yesterday, and one where I wasn’t reading at or visiting Sarah’s mum; first time I’ve done so in nearly 18 months. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have gone had Sarah not been with me to encourage me to go (or book the taxi and made sure I was in it with her). I chose this church because it looked like it had a similar style (relaxed, informal modern/contemporary music) to my previous church which I prefer. It was always going to be the theology that was going to be the sticking point. Not in terms of whether we agree but how they treat differences and those they disagree with.

It became quickly evident that we’re not seeing eye to eye on certain things (at one point Sarah had to pretty much hold me down when I heard “we called to love the sinner and hate the sin” and “truly forgiving involves forgetting”) and me being me, was just honest about how i felt about those things. The question I was asking God towards the end was “if I’m supposed to be here, am I here to learn or teach?” I think the answer to that is both, it’s just a matter and what, when and how. I got discussing penal substitution theory with the pastor, but very deliberately steered clear of other subjects like inerrancy and same-sex marriage. They will come, and we will have to see what happens when they do.

They’ve already made it clear that they are particular about what is taught from the front, and that they have house groups for essentially extended teaching. How open they are going to be only time will tell, how I open I will be is another matter. I’m not totally settled on what the Bible is or what I’m to do with it, or really sure what the point of church actually is, all I know is that I feel I need to be in a community of other Christians where I can share fellowship; but still be myself and challenge and be challenged and explore these doubts. The pastor has offered to meet me one to one to discuss various aspects, not sure if its to understand me more, to have the discussion or try to change my mind on things but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

I’ve had Christians tell me that we have gifts we can offer the church which is part of going. Well I’ve taken the small step of going, need to take some more and keep going. We’ll just have to see whether the gifts I offer are accepted.

How blowing the questions wide open (with the help of some heretics) saved my faith

synchroblog

(This post is part of the synchroblog “What Saved Your Faith?” hosted by Ed Cyzewski to celebrate the release of his new book, “A Christian Survival Guide.” Get the book free today only!)

I’ve written about this previously over many blogs, so my answer has been cobbled from these, but it’s a question that comes up often; mostly from Christians who’s faith seems to be falling apart before their eyes. Hearing the stories of those who have come close to losing their faith, only to come out the other side again can be very inspiring. I hope my story does the same for someone.

If I were to answer this question directly, I would say that those who were considered heretics were the people who helped to save my faith and make it stronger. I’ve never been particularly scared to ask questions, or to challenge the views of others and express my own. Whilst I am very determined, I try to remain open to the possibility I am wrong, though I can be stubborn. An infinite being such as God is never going to be explained properly by my finite mind, so I try to keep it open. Discussions with atheists regarding religion, faith and evidence for God always left me feeling challenged but inspired, and therefore, I’ve always tried to take on board what I was being told.

But none of this really prepared me for my encounters with those regarded as religious fundamentalists. From the beginning I was bombarded with scriptures and was told the ways I should interpret them. Because I was still learning about the scripture, I took what they said as gospel and went with it. Difficult topics, like Genesis, sin, and hell, I went with what I was learning from others. But as time went on, questions began to come to my mind. What about evolution? Why would a loving God send people to hell? In my usual manner, I asked these questions to the people who I was discussing these issues with. Sufficed to say, the responses I got took me by surprise. Same scriptures but with the added “why are you questioning God?” in there for extra spice. “It doesn’t make sense to you? You just need more faith!!!” Wonderful! I just need more faith. How do I get that if I can’t ask questions? “Well you’re not asking the right questions!” Yeah, well that’s less than unhelpful, along with being overly aggressive. I retreated into my shell and just hoped it would all go away.

Something I heard Michael Ramsden once say kept coming back to me; “If you have doubts and you leave them un-answered, they will erode under your faith until eventually it all collapses.” It got to the point for me where that’s exactly what was happening. I couldn’t reconcile everything I knew with what I was being told. I risked losing it all, but according to some, I already was by sending people (and myself) to hell with my theology. What this talk did though was show me that it’s perfectly acceptable to have questions and ask them, and slowly, my confidence and my curiosity grew once more, and my need to ask questions returned.

During one of my Google searches regarding homosexuality and the Bible (it turned out that it was a huge topic for many so I wasn’t alone, which felt good), I came across an article by Rachel Held Evans, titled “How to win a culture war and lose a generation”. Lovely article which really demonstrated love for others. This resonated with me, this was what I was looking for. When I did a search for more of her work, turns out not everyone saw it that way. Many of the searches came up alongside the word heretic; “a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church”. This made me nervous. Was I a heretic for agreeing with her? I’d already been told I was going to hell, maybe this would just seal the deal.

As I researched more topics, more names starting popping up; Justin Lee, Richard Beck, Peter Enns, Derek Flood (who I will come back to), Jeremy Myers; each Google search revealed them to be considered heretics. But the more I read their work, the more they made sense to me. Not only with the points they made, but with the diversity of the questions they were asking. These weren’t people afraid to ask questions, they openly did it and confronted head on many of those who would rather they were quiet. They had opened up a whole new world to the one presented to me before, yet it was a vaguely familiar one as they vocalized the questions I had been suppressing. They took a lot of abuse for it, but they persevered. To this day, I still don’t know how. But in it I began to see the vaguest of ideas of what the Bible was getting at and more importantly, what it meant to be a Christian.

So with my confidence back, I adopted my usual grace of a free falling safe and dove in. I rediscovered what I’d lost – my relationship with Christ. That difficult, slightly odd but totally unique relationship I have with Him.

Everything became different as I learned to embrace the relationship once more, I tried to look to Him for answers and see things as He does. I have my quirks because He gave them to me. If I was expecting a smooth road from there on out, I clearly hadn’t learned my lessons from the past.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I refer to Derek Flood a lot. I can say that his book helped to save my faith. As I mentioned previously, in the early days of my faith, I was influenced by people like Ravi Zacharias and Michael Ramsden, but their interpretation of the cross, (that it was about the pouring out of God’s wrath onto Jesus) really didn’t seem to settle with me; it didn’t sound like the God I knew. Previous issues regarding Genesis and the whole inerrancy issue were coming back to the forefront as a result. The work from the likes of Peter Enns and John Walton were helping me with these issues, but I couldn’t understand God and His wrath. It wasn’t until I read Flood’s book that I began to understand that the cross was about restoration, not wrath. Until that point, what I was coming to understand about heaven (courtesy of NT Wright’s work), were just words that sounded great, but I had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Flood’s book acted like a pen joining up the dots, not just about the cross, but about virtually everything that I couldn’t reconcile. It blew away my fears, and I felt a freedom and a peace that I hadn’t had since that night at my friends house.

When you’re in the middle of working through something, and you have all these voices telling you conflicting things, having people you trust who you can go to can really help you to find a path, but in the end, I had to work it out for myself. When relying solely on other peoples opinions, you run the risk of simply being blown about in the direction of whatever author you happen to be listening to at the time. Also, your understanding isn’t really your own – it’s your understanding of somebody else’s point of view. Your faith is effectively somebody else’s. It is a fine line to tread, but there is a difference between being influenced by someone and saying “this is true because they say so”. It isn’t wrong to listen to others, it’s how we learn, and it certainly gives a great starting point. It may even result in a massive breakthrough like Flood’s book did for me.

Looking back, the people I mentioned (and countless more I’ve missed) have helped shape my outlook on the Bible and my faith. These “heretics” have quite literally saved my faith and my relationship with Christ. They blew wide open the questions and dared to go down roads many deemed too dangerous. Anytime I find someone branded a heretic by a Christian, it encourages me to go read their work. This doesn’t mean that I agree with everything, but it encourages me to think differently about things and to be confident when doing so. You can’t do any of that without support, and I’ve not always had that from churches, so I often have to remind myself that it is ok to take a step back. It’s also opened my eyes to a great many things, I still have lots to learn though, and lots to work on, but at least I feel more confident to walk alongside Christ once more.

 

What saved your faith? Write a blog post answering that question and then visit this post at Ed Cyzewski’s blog to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide.

Why I love Thomas

Thomas is my favourite character in the Bible and I think he has a very unfair reputation. Given the nickname “doubting Thomas”, he is held as an example of someone who lacked faith and that we shouldn’t be like him in needing evidence to have faith. I think Thomas is precisely who we need to be like.

The main story that got Thomas his reputation is documented in Johns gospel (John 20:19-31) but I don’t see why Thomas is singled out or showed a lack of faith:

– All the disciples needed to see Jesus and his wounds before believing he had been raised from the dead (John 20:19-20)
– Thomas only doubted what the other disciples told him (John 2o:24-25)
– Jesus allowed Thomas to face his doubts and gave him the evidence he needed (John 20:26-27)
– Thomas was able to come to a place where he could make a declaration of faith because of what Jesus did (John 20:28)

There is a reference in Mark that Jesus chided them for their lack of faith (Mark 16:14) but this passage does not appear in earlier manuscripts or earlier witnesses. So what did Jesus mean by “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? It’s often taken to mean that we are to just believe by faith alone with no evidence. No one believed Jesus had raised from the dead until they saw him, which seems a very obvious and natural statement to make but seems to get overlooked. The disciples and Thomas saw Jesus after he was raised and did believe. Not every Christian has actually met Jesus yet we believe. Yes, Thomas doubted the other disciples but when he got the evidence he acknowledged who Christ was. On the flip side though, in John 14:8, Philip asked for more evidence about who Jesus was.  Jesus answered that he should have had enough evidence since he saw him (John 14:9). Jesus also made comments about the miracles he’d done but people still did not believe. He gave them the evidence, they saw what he did and still did not believe.

Jesus responding to 2 apparently identical statements very differently is not unique to this story. In John 13:37, Peter says he will lay down his life for Jesus yet is rebuked for it with Jesus saying Peter will disown him before the rooster crows 3 times. When Thomas states that the disciples should go with Jesus so they may die with him (John 11:16), Jesus doesn’t rebuke him. Admittedly it’s not documented in the account what Jesus’ response was, the account picks up with them on their way to Lazarus’s tomb but it shows Thomas has no doubts regarding Jesus, he was willing die with him. I’m sure this is a trait of Thomas we should be looking to be like, but what Thomas does here often gets overlooked. He is doing exactly what we all should be. Either side of the incident with Peter, were 2 further questions from the disciples to Jesus; 1 from Simon Peter and the other from Thomas again. Neither were met with the admonishment that was dished out to Peter (John 13:36 and John 14:5-6) Jesus answered their questions in his usual way; not a straight answer and one that seemed to go over the disciples heads.

A clue as to why Jesus treated these very differently may lie in 2 stories in Luke;  The priest Zechariah (some translations have Zacharias) and Mary. Both are visited by Gabriel, both are told they will have a son and both ask how it is possible. The responses they get are very different. Zechariah/Zacharias is struck dumb by Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25), Mary gets an answer from Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). Zechariah/Zacharias was a priest, he believed in God and Luke says he was righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. Yet he still didn’t believe when he was told he would have a son. He wanted more evidence like Philip did. Mary wasn’t any of that and she started with no evidence so Gabriel laid it out for her. How the questions were dealt with depended on our starting point. It does seem that at some point, God goes “you’ve had enough evidence” and no evidence will ever be enough for some people.

None of this equates to Jesus wanting us to believe without evidence. John 20:30-31 essentially tells us that he wrote his gospel so that we have evidence so that we can believe. Luke opens his gospel with a similar thing. We all need something; some just need the Bible, others need more but we all need something. Without evidence, you cannot say that the Koran is wrong or that atheism is wrong. Without evidence, you can’t even determine that anything is wrong. We don’t need to go to the opposite extreme of needing absolute certainty for everything.  As for Thomas himself, was killed in India whilst spreading the gospel, but little else is known about him. Apart from the list of disciples he is only mentioned in Johns gospel. He asked for clarification when unsure, evidence when confronted with an extraordinary claim, but had no problems with being willing to die with and for Jesus as and when it became necessary. He balanced his doubts with his commitment to follow Christ, which is something many Christians struggle with, but the Thomas story shows that Jesus will allow us to confront and overcome those doubts with evidence and our faith can be stronger for it.

Lets all be a bit like Thomas.

Me on the edge

I wrote this a little while ago but events of today have prompted me to re-publish it now rather than later.  I’ve been having increasing problems with my knee and there’s a chance I may need surgery to repair it. The situation with my knee is preventing me from training and I enjoy training a lot, it was helping me through my S.A.D which is slowly kicking in. Today I got prayer from some of the guys at church today and the grand total of nothing happened. Two, three times they prayed but nothing. Why?

Do I have too much unbelief when it comes to this? I’ve never actually seen someone been healed and this isn’t the first time I’ve been prayed for regarding my knee. I know God doesn’t heal all the time and despite me knowing this, it’s causing some small doubts and questions…..

So here’s us, on the raggedy edge – Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity (2005)

I led my church’s house groups a couple of months ago on the evidence for the resurrection. It went well but in the discussion afterwards, one of the guys raised a simple question; so what? The context he was coming at was does the evidence make any difference. My answer was that it provides a rational base from which we can be sure its true. But the question can be applied to the resurrection itself; Jesus rose from the dead, so what? What difference does the resurrection make?

Christians talk about being reborn, about putting our past lives to death and being fresh creations. Lately, I’ve been doubting whether I’ve really done this. I’m not sure I have changed that much. I seem to have the same struggles and the same desires and same tastes. I fall back into old habits and hate myself for doing so. I still have bitterness and rage in my heart. I tell myself that I’ve channeled my determination to doing Christs work, but this often seems hollow and more an attempt to convince myself more than anything. If someone was to taste my fruit (to quote Paul) would they really taste what they should? Would they really conclude I was a Christian from my life? In this world but not of it? I straddle both but feel I belong in neither.

I spent ages looking at the evidence for the Christian faith when I was an atheist, I still do today. I have a basic grasp of the arguments, but I’m not the sharpest tool in the box and see many others doing a far better job than me at answering objections. I’m not sure I know Christ. I get told to pray but that’s a struggle for me, I just can’t do it. I get told to have more faith, but how can I have more of what I’m not sure I have in the first place?  Getting answers works great if the answers help, but some just push me down deeper. I’m not convinced I’m saved and known by Christ. I’m not convinced I’m doing enough to bring people to him which is why many of my friends are still atheists. I just want to help people but not sure I am. I’ve thought about not referring myself as a Christian anymore because of all the hurt and pain caused by the church, and because I’ve had so many run ins with Christians and been branded a heretic so many times I’ve wanted to say “fine have it your way, I’m not a Christian”.

And yet…….

I think back to that evening at my friends house, when I said to God he’s got to help me, when I broke down and felt so at peace as Christ released me from whatever was tormenting me. I look back to the times I’ve had recurrences of the past and how God has supported me. I think about the fact that I fight my past and thinking about it doesn’t send me spiraling out of control. I look at the causes I’m taking on because I feel I’m called to fight injustices in this world, and even though I beat myself up because I think I can do better, try harder and put pressure on myself, I remember God sitting next to me and saying “one step at a time”.

So I continue to wrestle with God, the world and myself. I keep the image I have of me hanging on a rope in a dark pit, Christ has the end and stops me from falling whilst I help others out of the pit. I remind myself that I have not fallen into that big black hole and that the whole world struggles. For now, I’m going to keep having these doubts but I look at Thomas and see Christ brought him to a place where he could proclaim “My Lord and My God”. I sometimes have that confidence, other times I don’t. So I live on the raggedy edge and it does get messy.

This is who I am though, maybe I just need to embrace that.

First published 18th July 2013