Let’s face it: we live in a world in which someone is always trying to sell us something. People hawk their goods and services at our front doors; telemarketers blanket the country with robocalls; pop-up ads, well, pop up, everywhere we go on the Internet. If we’re at all wise, we know that not every claim is to be believed. Not every person is to be trusted.
For example, my wife and I have had people come to our door (more than once) falsely claiming to represent someone we already do business with, claiming that their company is one big happy family with our company. The come-on is that they just want to upgrade our equipment to the latest technology. But in truth, they’re trying to trick us into switching contracts.
What were they selling? Home security systems. Go figure. I’m guessing the irony was completely lost on them.
Moral of the story: in a broken world, we need to use the brains God gave us. We have them for a reason.
As suggested in the previous post, as creatures with highly developed brains (yes, I know, some apparently more developed than others), it’s natural for us to be curious, to want to understand. And there are many things we hear in church or read in Scripture that are anything but obvious. After all, didn’t the apostle Paul suggest that the gospel itself is foolishness to a world that thinks itself wise (1 Cor 2:6-16)? A little confusion is to be expected.
But curiosity isn’t always encouraged, and faith is too easily portrayed as a blind leap into the void. To some, the fact that we can’t know or understand things with 100% certainty means that we have to believe without employing any critical thought at all. Don’t think. Don’t ask questions. Just believe, and everything will be fine. Thinking will just get you into trouble.
Were we ever discouraged from thinking by people who didn’t like having their authority challenged? We may grow up to be cowed by authority, or else suspicious and distrustful. And sometimes, we may believe that the only faithful way to deal with doubts is to suppress them, to make a heroic effort to pretend they don’t exist. Maybe if we screw our eyes shut long enough and hard enough, all our doubts will just go away.
But probably not.
Against that kind of blind leap stand the gospel stories themselves. One gets the distinct impression that the disciples believed in Jesus, but frequently believed the wrong things about Jesus — and Jesus himself was always trying to get them to use their heads, albeit usually with little success.
Faith entails both kinds of belief: belief “in” and belief “about” or “that.” Think again of Thomas. He never stopped believing “in” Jesus, trusting him, being loyal to him. But as was the case with the other disciples, his understanding of who Jesus was and what his Father had sent him to do was constantly in need of revision.
Saint Augustine taught that there is a natural interplay between belief and understanding. We must have some basic understanding of who Jesus is, for example, in order to believe in him. That’s the importance of clear presentations of the gospel. At the same time, however, there are some things we cannot understand about Jesus unless we believe in him first. Understanding can support faith, but faith is also necessary to understanding; sometimes, you won’t see it until you believe it.
Thomas and the others had seen the signs; they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. As they continued to follow and walk with him, they came to trust him more and more, and their loyalty deepened. But they still had a long way to go in their understanding.
Don’t we all?
If there are different elements to faith, then there are also different elements to doubt. If we’re to answer the question of whether it’s faithless for Christians to doubt, we’ll need to address these. More on that in Sunday’s post.