‘Believe those who seek the truth;
Doubt those who find it’
So wrote the French novelist Andre Gide.
Faced with the Coronavirus some religious groups have shown the wisdom of his words with tragic consequences.
- In the English midlands a prayer meeting went ahead in spite of Coronavirus restrictions after the group was assured by its leaders that God would protect them. Two died and ten ended up in intensive care.
- A pastor in a town further south was instrumental in popularising the bogus theory that 5G masts were the source of the outbreak having used the internet to spread his claim that God had enabled him to pull all the evidence together and arrive at a special revelation.
- And in the USA another church leader has been offering a special healing oil that would protect or heal those anointed with it.
All of these cases absorbed the time and energy of front-line workers and put them and those who believed these things in danger.
Yet for many of those involved in these cases this has been about faith. For them, to believe otherwise, to trust the science is to not trust God, to follow the restrictions imposed by unbelievers is to display lack of faith, to be like the apostle Thomas, faithless doubters rather than true believers. This understanding of faith sees faith as certainty, but that is to misunderstand the story of Thomas. It is not Thomas’s doubts and uncertainty that are the problem but his demand for proof. To demand proof is to demand certainty and certainty is the very opposite of faith. Thomas found faith when he gave up his desire for certainty.
In these strange times facing multiple uncertainties, we probably all wish things were clearer, less confused and uncertain. It is uncomfortable and distressing to live with all the restrictions and to have no clear picture of how we get out of lockdown, what the next few months will be like and what the long-term future is going to be for us, our families, friends, country, planet. We don’t usually have to face so many levels of uncertainty all in one go and to long for more certainty is understandable. But as the story of Thomas shows us faith is not the same as certainty. Faith is living with the uncertainty but faith is also a trusting and hopefulness in that uncertainty.
‘All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ in the words of Julian of Norwich at the time that the Black Death raged across the world.
The Welsh poet and Anglican priest R S Thomas lived with doubt and uncertainty more acutely than most, and he beautifully captured the fragile and intangible nature of faith in these six lines –
I think that maybe
I will be a little surer
of being a little nearer.
That’s all. Eternity
is in understanding
that that little is more than enough