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'I don't believe it!' An assembly to consider the value of doubting

To show that it is natural to doubt and to encourage respect for other people’s beliefs.

by Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To show that it is natural to doubt and to encourage respect for other people’s beliefs.

Preparation and materials

  • St Thomas is celebrated on 3 July in the Anglican Church.
  • You might like to download the key phrase from an episode of One Foot in the Grave (BBC).

Assembly

  1. If using, begin with the excerpt, ending with Richard Wilson exclaiming ‘I don’t believe it!’
  2. Ask if anyone has heard the expression ‘Doubting Thomas’? Explain that Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples. On the day Jesus came back from the dead, Thomas was not there to witness it, and proclaimed that he didn’t believe it had happened. A week later, Jesus appeared again. This time Thomas was present and he realized that he had been wrong.
  3. Rather sadly, it’s doubting that Thomas is famous for, although he is also recorded as the person who asked Jesus a very important question: who he was, when Jesus famously proclaimed ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ – a statement that is key to the Christian understanding of Jesus.

    Even sadder is that most people judge Thomas harshly for doubting. The reality is, though, that he was sensible to doubt – how many people do you know who’ve come back from the dead?
  4. In many faiths, having doubts can be perceived to be a bad thing. But why is this? Faith in God means that you are being asked to believe in something for which we have no proof. Faith is the leap in the dark, the hope that we hold on to. It is sensible, and a basic human trait, to have doubts. As we discover more and more about science, and come to rely on it, so we like evidence to help us make decisions. Faith in an unseen God is always going to look dubious and is often difficult – not just for Richard Dawkins, but for all of us.
  5. Yet down through the ages, people have held on to their faith for deep-seated reasons. There are still more people in Christian churches on Sundays in this country than at football matches, and that’s not just in the summer when there are no matches! Faith continues to be very important for many other people too who don’t attend organized worship, but want the important times in their lives marked by a religious ceremony.
  6. You may or may not have a faith. You may have doubts about your faith from time to time. And I hope if you claim no faith at all that each one of you has thought through your position. What’s important is that we respect people for their belief, as it is a personal and important part of each of our lives.
  7. I once read a helpful illustration about faith and doubt: faith is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. As you go through life, you slowly assembly the puzzle, until you get a lovely picture, with no gaps. At that point, life (i.e. doubt) takes the puzzle and throws it up in the air, and you have to start again, reassembling the puzzle. Every time that happens, the puzzle comes out with a slightly different picture. Your faith will grow as a result of working with doubt (see The Transforming Moment by James Loder, H & H, 1989).
  8. Thomas traditionally travelled to India, and worked there telling people the Christian story. His doubts helped him, as he looked back, to have a firmer faith. Your doubts will help each one of you to a faith that is real and genuine.

Time for reflection

Think about the various problems that you face in your life at the moment.

Hold them in your hand, then turn them over and reflect on the possibilities open to you.

Perhaps there is no answer at the moment. In that case, just pop them away, and come back to them another day.

If you do have the answers, then there’s no time like the present to get on with it!

Prayer

Help me to live with doubts,

with niggling insecurity.

Help me to hold on to what I believe to be true, to let it grow and change,

and help me to always respect another person’s faith,

as I want them to respect mine.

Amen.

Hymn

‘I the Lord of sea and sky’ (Hymns Old and New, 324)

Publication date: July 2009   (Vol.11 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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