The Famous Doubter
I doubt it!
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2014)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider 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. An example is available at: https://tinyurl.com/4k4fttu2
- Familiarize yourself with the Bible passage John 20.24–29 and arrange a student to read it during the ‘Assembly’, Step 3. It is available at: https://tinyurl.com/ye22f74p
- Optional: you may wish to arrange for a group of students to act out this Bible passage instead.
- 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 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 here. When asked a question, the person responds with, ‘I doubt it.’ They are uncertain about their answer and feel doubtful as to how likely the outcome implied in the question would be.
- Maybe they haven’t asked their parents whether they can go to Jenny’s party. Perhaps they think that the response will be ‘no’, so they don’t want to ask. Equally, they might not want to go, so they use their parents’ likely response as an excuse.
Likewise, maybe our pianist has done enough practice, but because the exam is for Grade 8, they’re preparing for the fact that things could go wrong. Perhaps they are protecting themselves from the disappointment of failing, so if they pass, it’s a bonus.
Finally, there’s the God question: ‘Does God exist?’ Why does this person doubt it? Is it because there is no proof?
In UK criminal courts, to convict a defendant, the proof against them must show them to be guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Essentially, this means that the court must be convinced that there is no doubt that something is true.
Doubt is a kind of grey area for us, in that it is a place between belief and disbelief. It is where the uncertainty of something is too much for us to be able to plump for one side or the other. This might be because we mistrust the source of the information or because we want to have empirical proof first. We may feel that, because we cannot hear, see or touch something, it cannot be true and there is some room for doubt.
- There is a very famous doubter in the Bible. His name was Thomas. In fact, even now, labelling someone a ‘doubting Thomas’ is a common idiom for someone who is dubious or sceptical about something.
Display the image of The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio and ask the prearranged student to read the Bible passage John 20.24–29 (and have a group of students act it out, if using).
- Thomas, rather grimly, feels the need to actually touch Jesus’ wounds. He must see and touch things for himself before he can believe that Jesus has really risen from the dead.
It may be that he wants to be certain for himself, or that he is acting like our Grade 8 pianist – 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 whether the only reason Thomas 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 in person, yet they will still believe.
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘seeing is believing’. Thomas is not alone in having doubts – many of us need to see things for ourselves.
Time for reflection
The problem is that, by allowing doubt to crowd our judgement, we can often find ourselves doubting not only others, but also ourselves. It’s important to think things through carefully, but it’s also important not to allow suspicions and uncertainties to crowd our minds so much that we never make a decision or take a risk.
Maybe today, we could try living with a piece of doubt rather than chasing it around until we decide which way we want to go with it. Maybe today, we could become more open to questions that sit with us rather than being resolved. This is the way our spiritual lives often move on: by living with doubt.
Please help us when we have doubts about our own abilities and worth.
Please help us to see how important and precious we are to you.
Please help us to think through issues without being scared to take risks sometimes.
Please help us as we think about you and who you are.
‘You say’ by Lauren Daigle, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaT8Jl2zpI (4.30 minutes long)