The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio
It’s simple really. All I have to do is put one word in front of another, types of words ordered in a particular way. As I often do when I am having difficulty writing, I begin gazing around my bookshelf and my eyes stop at Stephen Dobyns’s book, Best Words, Best Order. That’s it, I think, all I have to do is find the best words and put them in the best order.
I have the opportunity to tell the story of grace and redemption every single week. I cannot think of a greater privilege than this.
But today it does not feel like a privilege. The best words cannot be found and the best order cannot be mapped.
It is the Saturday Demon.
The Saturday Demon comes around on Saturday when I am trying to put the finishing touches on my sermon for Sunday. I have spent all week studying, reading, praying, researching, translating, and beginning to write, but Saturday is my finishing day.
“It doesn’t really matter” the demon whispers in my ear. “None of it really matters.”
For me, the real danger that the Saturday Demon poses is not that it creates doubt, it is that it highlight and fortifies the doubts which are already so present.
“You’re a fraud,” it tells me. “You lie to people and give them false hope.”
The Saturday Demon knows exactly how to attack. I begin to wonder if this is worth it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, perhaps I am doing this all for nothing, perhaps none of this is real.
Confession time: I am a pastor, and I have great doubt.
I’m a doubting Thomas, as some might call me, although I loathe this term. Why does Thomas get such a bad rap? Peter denied that he knew anything about Jesus of Nazareth not once, not twice, but three times. Do we remember Peter only as a denier? Do we call someone a “I Don’t Know Him Peter”? No.
But Thomas’s reputation is forever stained as being a doubter, and doubting is seen as something terrible. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, we tell our young people, doubting is weakness. Doubting is sin, we say, God wants us to have confidence.
The more I try to ignore the Saturday Demon, the louder is speaks. Rather than trying to ignore it, I decide to listen to it for a moment. Hear it out. After all, Jesus didn’t just try to ignore the devil when he was being tempted in the desert, he carried on a conversation.
“Just stop,” it tells me, “none of this matters anyway, you’re just wasting your time.”
“Are you finished?” I ask the Saturday Demon. “I’m going to get back to work now,” and I continue pounding away on the keyboard trying to find the best words and trying to find the best order. The Saturday Demon continues to assault me, but it is important that I do not give in to its attack, I cannot become defeated, and the best way to do this is to keep working, even when these doubts erupt on schedule like Old Faithful. After all, I have people who depend on me.
I’m a pastor. I’m a doubter. Maybe this is why God has called me to this kind of ministry at this point in my life, so that even when I have great doubts, I still have to show up, stand in front of the congregation, and tell them the good news of the story of grace and redemption. It is through telling of the same story over and over again that I can, in some way, continue to believe even with my doubts.
Perhaps the reason that we will always link doubt and Thomas together, perhaps the reason that we remember Thomas for nothing other than his doubts is that we see ourselves in Thomas. In seeing in this mirror, we can see in ourselves what we so greatly despise, and we attempt to ensure that we keep him and his doubts at arm’s length.
This disapproving way that we speak of doubt is incredibly unfortunate. Truly, if doubt has no place in the church, it is no wonder why so many young people leave the church. If doubt has no place in the journey of faith, it is no wonder why there are an increasing number of “nones” when asked about religion.
Perhaps it is not the absence of doubt which is to be prized, but the ability to have faith and doubt at the same time, and live with the tension.