I Doubt It!
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To look at the idea of doubt and one famous doubter in particular.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
- Have available an image of The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio and the means to display it during the assembly (check copyright).
- Familiarize yourself with the passage John 20.24–29 and have a copy of it for one of your readers to read during the assembly. You could organize for a group of students to act out what is described, too, if you wish.
Reader 1: Are you going to Jenny’s party?
Reader 2: I doubt it.
Reader 1: Are you going to pass your Grade 8 piano exam?
Reader 2: Er, maybe, but I doubt it – I haven’t done enough practice.
Reader 1: Will this dress/shirt fit you? I don’t really want it any more.
Reader 2: I doubt it.
Reader 1: Does God exist?
Reader 2: I doubt it.
Leader: There’s a common theme coming through here. When asked a question, one person’s response is, ‘I doubt it.’ He/she is uncertain about the answer to the question and has a feeling of doubt as to how likely the outcome implied in the question would be.
Maybe our reader hasn’t asked his/her parents if she can go to Jenny’s party. Perhaps he/she thinks that the response will be no, so he/she doesn’t ask. It might be the case that his/her parents would say yes, but because of a previous experience he/she has decided not to bother even trying. Equally, it might be because he/she doesn’t really want to go, so he/she uses his/her parents’ likely response as an excuse.
Maybe our musician has done enough practice, but its Grade 8 and so he/she is preparing for the fact that things could go wrong. This means that he/she protects him-/herself from the disappointment of failing, so, if he/she passes, then it’s a bonus. Likewise with the clothes, if they fit and look nice, then that’s a real boost, but by saying ‘I doubt it’ there might be a way of saving face. Alternatively, if he/she doesn’t really like the clothes, then maybe it’s better to say that than, ‘Er, no, that’s horrible. Why would I want it?!’
Then, finally, there’s the God question. ‘Does God exist?’ ‘I doubt it.’ Why does he/she doubt? Is it because there is no proof?
In a court of law, proof against the defendant has to show him or her to be guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. This means that if there is a possibility the defendant may not be guilty, then this needs to be followed up and looked into further.
So, why do we doubt? It is a kind of ‘grey area’ for us. That is, it is a place between belief and disbelief. It is where the uncertainty of something is too much for us to be able to come down on one side or the other. This might be because we mistrust the source of the information or that we simply want to have empirical proof first. That is, because we cannot use our senses or cannot hear, see or touch something, then it simply cannot be true and there is some room for doubt.
There is one very famous doubter. His name was Thomas. In fact, a common colloquialism when referring to someone who is dubious or sceptical about something is to call them a ‘doubting Thomas’.
Display the image of Caravaggio’s painting of Thomas, if using.
Reader 1: Read John 20.24–29.
Have the group of students come up and act out the passage, too, if this has been arranged.
Leader: Thomas, rather grimly, feels the need to actually touch Jesus’ wounds. He feels the need to see and touch things for himself before he can believe that Jesus has actually risen from the dead.
It may be that he just needs to know for sure for himself or else he is acting like our Grade 8 musician – he is protecting himself in case it turns out to be untrue. Thomas needs the confirmation that seeing with his own eyes and touching with his own fingers will bring.
Jesus gently rebukes him by wondering if the only reason he believes is because he can touch and see with his own eyes.
The key point is that generations of Christians after Thomas won’t have the luxury of being able to ‘see’ Jesus, yet will believe.
Thomas is not alone in having doubts – many of us need to see things for ourselves. The phrase ‘seeing is believing’ is a common one. Even Winnie the Pooh felt this way – he had to climb up the tree to see how the bees make honey.
Time for reflection
The only problem is that, by allowing doubt to crowd our judgement and our views of things, it often means we not only doubt others but also ourselves. If we can try to not doubt, though, not find the gaps or allow the suspicions and uncertainties to crowd our minds, then maybe we might just see things a little more clearly.
Maybe today you could try living with a piece of doubt, not chasing it around until you decide which way you want to go with it. Maybe today you could become more open to questions that sit with you rather than being resolved, for this is the way our spiritual lives often move on – by living with doubt.