Article of the week: Baffled and perplexed? Me too
8 August 2020
Major Mal Davies begins a new series in which people reflect on a favourite prayer
I THINK Thomas gets a bad rap. For 2,000 years he has been the poster boy for doubt and uncertainty; even in the secular world people use the phrase ‘doubting Thomas’ only in a negative context. Poor Thomas.
I like Thomas; he’s one of my favourite biblical characters. Having said that, he’s only mentioned 11 times in the whole Bible and five of those are just his name listed alongside those of other disciples. His name only appears by itself on three occasions: at the raising of Lazarus, when he comments at the last supper, and four times – most memorably – at a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus.
The ‘doubting Thomas’ reference comes from a passage in John 20. On the evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples but Thomas was not present. When the disciples saw Thomas, they told him that Jesus was alive and Thomas said that until he could touch Jesus’ wounds he wouldn’t believe it.
A week later, Jesus appeared to them all and immediately confronted Thomas, saying: ‘Stop doubting and believe’ (v27). Thomas – without even touching Jesus – fell to his knees and replied: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (v28).
And that’s Thomas. Five mentions, three appearances, his longest dialogue covered in just five verses. Yes, he showed some doubt about Jesus being alive, but if I told you that someone you’d seen buried a few days earlier was alive again, wouldn’t you question it?
The sobriquet ‘doubting’ is based almost solely on Jesus’ words to Thomas, and – just like that – doubting Thomas he was dubbed and for evermore shall be known.
One of my favourite prayer books is When I Talk To You, a collection of prayers and illustrations by Australian cartoonist, poet and writer Michael Leunig. It contains a short prayer that I’ve used in various ministry settings, from sermons and prayer meetings to pastoral visits: ‘God bless the lost, the confused, the unsure, the bewildered, the puzzled, the mystified, the baffled and the perplexed. Amen.’
When I first read the prayer it – ironically – confused me a little. I’d always believed that Christians are supposed to be sure of every nuance of faith, deeply convicted of spiritual truth and solid as a rock in their beliefs and spiritual persuasions. Surely this prayer was only for wavering, irresolute, faltering, foolish heathen types who didn’t know what to believe?
One morning recently, as I attended to my daily devotions, I made some notes in my Bible alongside a passage that I’d read many times before but, as I focused closely on it, found more and more mystery in its words. I sat back in my chair and thought: ‘You’ve read this passage hundreds of times. You’ve heard it preached on. You’ve read about it in commentaries. You’ve done formal biblical and theological studies. You’ve been a Christian your whole life and an officer for nearly 20 years. How can it be that you still don’t get what Jesus is saying here?’
Are Christians allowed to be confused, unsure, bewildered, puzzled, mystified, baffled and perplexed, or should we know the answer to every question of faith and Scripture and doctrine?
I like Thomas because he wanted to be sure. He didn’t want to take what others said on face value; he wanted to find out for himself. By seeing the risen Jesus, Thomas would know his faith was built on a solid foundation. He needed to do what he needed to do, not for others but for himself.
History and tradition tell us that Thomas travelled to India and helped establish Christianity there; today there are more than 28 million Christians in India. As Thomas was preaching to people about Christ and trying to convince them of the Resurrection, imagine the difference between him saying, ‘I know Jesus was resurrected; my friends told me they’d seen him,’ and, ‘I know Jesus was resurrected; I was with him.’
‘Doubting Thomas’ could just as easily be called ‘convinced and convicted Thomas’. His doubts prompted him to seek truth.
So as I read this small prayer by Leunig, I’m reminded that it’s OK to have questions and to sometimes be a confused, baffled and puzzled Christian. It’s in seeking answers that my faith grows and I, too, become convinced and convicted. I find the truth, and the truth sets me free.
No doubt about it.
MAJOR DAVIES IS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THQ