I had this Sunday off preaching, which was actually quite wonderful. I had the opportunity of going to another church in town and just sitting in the pews and being part of the service.
The sermon was excellent and was on this week's lectionary reading about 'Doubting Thomas'. A fellow Methodist minister only pointed out to me the other day something I'd not twigged: that this reading of 'Doubting Thomas' is used every year on the first Sunday after Easter. I think I can imagine why.
I really liked today's sermon as the preacher took seriously the fact that all Christians have doubts about their faith at one time or another. He also made the very important point that each of us has times in our lives when God really speaks to us - times of great light and revelation. The experiences we have when we are certain that God is speaking to us are the experiences that are to be trusted. (Those who are familiar with Ignatius Loyola will know that this comes right out of The Spiritual Exercises.)
But back to doubt. Doubting is a part of faith and the two are inseparable. Saying this is simply a matter of being realistic. I do not mean to exault doubt or to say that those who doubt frequently are 'better believers' or 'more sophisticated'. What I mean to do is to name a phenemenon that - I would guess - happens to most people at some time in their lives. Sometimes it's not even a matter of actively doubting but of feeling that God has abandonded me.
This happens to most people at some point in their faith-life and it's not at all a comfortable thing. Each person will probably have their own ways of coping with these periods of desolation, these 'dark nights' and, to some extent, the coping mechanisms are individual things.
But I think that it's important to recognise that 'doubt happens' and that doubt is part of almost everyone's faith-journey at some point. As Christians, I think that we need to learn to not be afraid of those among us who doubt. As a church universal, we have a bad track record of being afraid of those who are doubting and afraid of those who are going through 'dark nights' in their faith. I wonder how the church could be more supportive?