Good doubt, bad doubt

It is important to encourage the right sort of doubt – and not the wrong sort.  But do we know the difference?  John (John 20:19-31) tells the story of the first Easter evening.  Jesus appeared to the disciples, but Thomas was absent, and refused to believe their story.  It must have been a difficult week!  When Jesus appears to them all, a week later, Thomas outdoes the others in his declaration of faith.

So, what is good or bad doubt?  Bad doubt is an excuse.  I can’t prove that my choice of spouse will be right – so I won’t make a commitment in marriage.  I can’t prove that my choice of career is correct, so I won’t put energy into doing it well.  You can go on.  Bad doubt feeds cynicism, laziness, lack of faith.  There are many things we either cannot prove in advance, or don’t try to.  (I drive a car, but don’t check the brakes every time I start off).

Thomas teaches us a sort of doubt which may not be comfortable, but looks for an answer.  Jesus resurrection is so unlikely, he wants good reason.  When he gets it – as Jesus invites his checking – he is ready to change his opinion and commit.  Without his doubt, would he – could he – have been as firm in his following a Risen Lord?  Good doubt is helpful, encouraging us to ask the right questions – questions which can deepen understanding, strengthen conclusions, sharpen our perception of reality.

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