11th April 2021, Revd Tim Calow, John 20:19-31

FAITH AND DOUBT

11th April 2021

John 20:19-31

Revd. Tim Calow

I have often spoken with people who see faith and doubt as opposites. Faith is seen as beyond reason – trusting in something for which there is no evidence. Science – on the other hand – deals in facts, the things that we can see and believe. 

Today – however – we have heard the story of Thomas. Our reading follows on from last week’s exciting episode from John’s gospel. As we left it – the men had run away – and it was Mary who was the one to see Jesus. I suspect many of the men had doubts about the story that Mary had told them. They probably dismissed the story as being that of a hysterical woman. They probably doubted.

Jesus did however then come to meet them. He appeared before them – with the wounds of his crucifixion still visible. Thomas wasn’t however there. When he – in turn – is told the story of Jesus appearing he doubts. He needs evidence.

Our society has moved on – we are told. We don’t read the religious story. We ‘follow the science’ as our government ministers have repeatedly told us. I have trained as a scientist (a Chemistry degree) – and this phrase really annoys me. For Science is not a fixed body of knowledge. Science is an approach to the world. It moves forward by collecting evidence, advancing hypotheses, and then testing these hypotheses. The implications of the hypothesis are worked out. We then devise new experiments to see if the results are what our theory predicted.

Science is thus a method which extends our knowledge by a process of investigation, theorising and testing of our hypothesis.

Seen like this it isn’t so far away from the story of Thomas which we have read. He is a practical man – focused on what he has seen. I have a lot of sympathy. He does also leave the way open to new experiences. He doesn’t abandon the friends that he has spent the last year with. He stays with them – open to what will happen next. 

Our knowledge of science is imperfect and incomplete. Our knowledge of God is partial, imperfect and incomplete. This mustn’t stop us moving on in our lives in faith. Just as the government had to make its decisions about Covid – with urgency – based on partial knowledge – so we in our lives have limited time. The current debate about the safety of the Oxford vaccine is based on the need to choose courses of action with a partial knowledge of the outcomes – weighing up carefully the benefits and risks of different courses of action. We have to try to live to the full – living with urgency as a pilgrim people.

It can be frightening to move forward without certainty – not knowing exactly where we are travelling, and not fully understanding the world around us. We don’t however travel alone – for we, individuals, are part of the pilgrim people of God.  

Sadly this last week the catholic theologian Hans Kung died. Some of you may have heard Friday’s ‘Thought for the Day’ by Bishop Nick – which was about Hans Kung. I have read a number of his books.

He is well known for his exploration of faith in our contemporary setting. He stuck by his explorations in spite of the condemnation that he received. He doubted much of the Roman Catholic dogma – issues such as the infallibility of the pope. He describes the church as a “pilgrim community of believers, not of those who already see and know. The church must ever and again wander through the desert, through the darkness of sin and error… prepared to seek a new path, a path that might be just as difficult as a desert track or a path through darkness.”

Let us travel on together – as that pilgrim people – through these dark and uncertain times – but living in hope.

Amen.