Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one. - Voltaire
We all face seasons of profound doubt where our belief systems are called into question and the so called reliable sources that had previously influenced our convictions no longer seem to make sense anymore.
Doubt is not an enemy that tries it undermine all that we have known to be true or right but rather the flip side of faith which challenges us to move on from our old ways of certainty. In the gospel of St Mark Jesus says to a man who is desperate to see his son set free from some kind of spiritual malady, “If you can believe, all things are possible for those who believe”, to which the man replies “I believe; help my unbelief!”
It seems that the journey of belief must pass through the valley of unbelief in order for it to be an authentic mystical experience. Belief is not some kind of mental ascent or positive self talk but an acknowledgement of our cynicism, suspicion, and uncertainty as it pushes to the surface of our life like dross that is emerging to make way for the gold.
I have been told that unbelief is primarily something that needs to be eradicated from our consciousness but unfortunately, dare I say it, we need it in order to help pave the way for an authentic version of faith that understands the paradoxical nature of spiritually.
One of my favourite disciple moments in the gospel story is when Thomas is told that Jesus has resurrected. His refusal to play to the script of the so-called hyper-faith spin doctors is evident in his reply, “Unless I seethe nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” [John 20:19] This is where the term ‘doubting Thomas’ originates, a testament to the reality of what we all experience when confronted with ridiculously outlandish or preposterous situations. Thomas becomes a honest voice for humans who struggle to cope with a belief structure that doesn't leave room for questions or skepticism.
The Italian baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio recreates the scene in his masterpiece, ‘The incredulity of Saint Thomas’ where Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger into his wounded side as if seeing him in person wasn't enough. For him, belief had to be a full sensory experience in order to be genuine. 'Seeng is believing’ entered into the human vocabulary as a mantra that would guide future generations on the journey of trustworthy and authoritative religious practice.
I am a mix of belief and unbelief, a beautiful conundrum that is ok with my humanity even if it means going against the upwardly mobile mindset of ever increasing faith that tries to suppress any doubt. Certainty has become the slogan for those who are afraid to acknowledge or embrace their 'doubting Thomas’ self, secretly nervous of somehow disappointing God or worst still restricting that Gods ability to bless or pour out divine favour.
I would like to suggest that ‘doubt or unbelief’ while a seemingly unattractive part of the human condition, the Divine does seem to find it irresistible. Jesus doesn't rebuke Thomas as much as he invites him into a mutual place of interpenetration, a cocktail of doubt and faith, belief and unbelief forever negotiating together in order to produce an intoxicating non-dual consciousness for us all to aspire to. In an ironic twist of events many historians believe that Thomas courageously travelled to India to share his faith with foreign peoples, something we would all struggle to do without a strong sense of conviction and passion.
Doubt is one of the most endearing qualifications for those who want to have a bona fide relationship with the transcendent. In fact it probably enhances and deepens our reliance on what it means to be truely spiritual beings.
Maybe this statement by Richard Rohr about gift and sin also applies to faith and doubt?
‘Your gift is the flip side of your “sin” and your sin is the dangerous side of your gift. You must accept and recognise both, which will always keep you both humble and wise.’ - Richard Rohr