Questions and Doubts
Asking questions can be helpful
by Ronni Lamont (revised, originally published in 2008)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To look at the helpfulness of doubting and asking questions.
Preparation and materials
- Familiarize yourself with the Bible story in the passage John 20.24-29 (NRSV), which is about when Thomas doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead. You may either read verses 26 to 29 straight from the Bible or the paraphrase given in the assembly.
Small children are well known for asking lots of questions. If you listen to them talking, many of their comments will take the form of questions. 'Why is the sky blue? Where did that come from? Are we there yet? . . .'
It is important that small children ask questions – that is how they learn about life. As we grow older, the types of question we ask change. They become more sophisticated. The trouble is that then we often do not ask questions because we don’t want to ask a stupid question. So, although we may really want to ask something such as, ‘Could you just run through that again, please?’ or, ‘What does that word mean?’ the chances are that we won’t.
Similarly, through the ages, people have often found it difficult to question their beliefs or faith systems for fear of looking as if they are not true believers. There is a story in the part of the Bible that we call the New Testament that Christians often think about in the period after Easter. It is the story that initiated the expression ‘doubting Thomas’.
Thomas was one of Jesus’ closest friends, one of his disciples. When Jesus died, Thomas was devastated, just like the other disciples. Three days after Jesus died, however, some of the disciples claimed that Jesus had visited them. Thomas was not one of them. When they told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them, walking in even though the door was closed, Thomas did not believe them and said:
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. (John 20.25)
The story of Thomas continued
A week later, they were all together in the same room once more when, suddenly, Jesus appeared for the second time.
On this occasion, Thomas was present. Jesus spoke directly to Thomas, quoting the words that Thomas had spoken, about putting his finger in the mark the nails had made and his hand in Jesus’ side. Thomas was so amazed that he fell on his knees in front of Jesus and declared Jesus to be his Lord and his God.
Thomas certainly overcame his doubts. History suggests that he died a martyr many years later.
So was Thomas wrong to question what the other disciples had told him? Wasn’t he just doing exactly what every one of us would have done? If we had been told that our leader had come back from the dead, was alive again and able to walk through closed doors, it is likely that we would have responded in a very similar way! It is part of our culture to ask questions and something that schools, colleges and universities encourage.
Is it right to ask questions of our faith and belief? Surely we need to be able to ask questions if we are to grow in our understanding of our faith, quietly pondering questions and working towards the answer.
Thomas asked questions and Jesus presented himself as the answer. Christians continue to work their faith out as they mature and grow older, to the extent that most now describe their life of faith as 'a journey' – something that changes and moves as they grow older and more experienced in the world.
The conclusion is that if, when we think about faith, we find we have lots of questions, we should ask them. You could ask an RE teacher, a local minister or someone else you feel could help in some way. You could talk with your friends - they may even have the same questions.
Never be afraid that people will think less of you for expressing doubts or questions – most people will admire you for being honest.
Time for reflection
Think of the questions that you have about your faith or the faith of people you know. What one question would you like to ask? Is there someone with whom you could share that question?
There are times when I really wonder . . .
wonder about the world and how it works
wonder about myself and where I fit in
wonder about all the different faiths that I see around me.
Please help me to ask the right questions as I journey through life.
Please help me to listen as I try to hear the answers.