Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 2, 2018

The opposite of faith

Theologian Paul Tillich said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.”

This story in John’s gospel is about faith, doubt, and the desire for certainty.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  [from John 20]

Called “Doubting Thomas” by many, I think the disciple is instead an honest example for all of us who can’t believe, or who want to believe, or who have re-evaluated—maybe even changed—our beliefs along the way.

Thomas needs proof. Jesus doesn’t disparage his doubt. Jesus offers the very proof Thomas seeks by inviting him to explore that doubt.

I even get the feeling that the less certain Thomas is the one to be emulated in this story. Jesus praises him.

The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.

I’m amazed every week when I look at Facebook and see what some folks believe. How are our beliefs and convictions formed?  What makes one person believe something, and another person believe the total opposite? Sometimes it’s the certainty that is concerning–the idea that one couldn’t possibly be wrong, the inability even to look at another opinion, much less consider it.

When we refuse to listen to the beliefs of others, we are being unfaithful. Maybe we’re afraid that some idea that defines who we are will be rightly challenged.

Beliefs typically come through the people and institutions that are constants in our lives. Schools, faith communities, teachers, friends, partners, co-workers, and that all-important first breeding ground of belief: the family. It’s not just what is said at home that puts those deep grooves in our brains; it’s everything about how we live.

Even as adults, we can still have the kinds of experiences that change our beliefs. This is why it’s so incredibly important to expand our circle of friends and acquaintances, to read about the experiences of others, to pay attention to subtexts, to try to suspend our own heartfelt beliefs and maybe even call them into question—listening to the experiences of other individuals or groups with empathy, because it’s expanding for our own hearts, our own faith, our own humanity. This can take practice, and it can be hard work. But it is rewarding work. Every time you listen to someone else’s experiences, and try to imagine what it’s like to be them—a different age, different gender, different nationality, different sexual orientation, different race—your own personhood expands. And your beliefs and convictions can be altered.

We sometimes become less certain of some of our strongest beliefs, even as we become more faithful in seeking out what new thing God might be teaching us.

Think about the experiences you’ve had that make you you. Give voice to them in your head and in your heart, so that in reflecting you may continue to learn more about yourself, and may be open to change and growth.

Jesus looked at Thomas with compassion and friendship. He responded to doubts with love and invitation. All those early disciples were working through their beliefs in their own, individualized, halting way. And they were all accepted. They all shifted from certainty to faith.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it is certainty.Francis with Easter eggs

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018


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