Thomas’ doubt that Jesus had risen is the classic case of ‘seeing is believing’.
‘The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”’
Now I have long thought that Thomas has received bad press being labelled ‘the doubter’ because the rest of the disciples did not believe until Jesus appeared to them. However, that anomaly in Christian tradition aside I want to explore with you this morning the interplay between belief, doubt and revelation.
To begin with whilst we have a tendency to think that seeing is believing I heard a sermon in January in which the minister asserted it is actually the other way around. What we believe determines what we see, or at least shapes our seeing.
To give an example of this, consider what you believe about people who live in poverty. You might believe that there are enough opportunities in this life so that if people work hard enough they should not live in a state of poverty. In other words some people believe that we make our own beds and therefore logically must lie in them. So if a poor person turns up whilst you might have some compassion for them there would also be a level of blame going on, most likely subconsciously. This person has gotten themselves into this mess.
On the other hand you might believe that people who live in poverty are victims of circumstance, which might include things like socio-economic surroundings, education opportunities or health issues. So when a poor person turns up when you look at them you see the person as a victim of the difficulties that life can throw at us. Once again there would probably be some compassion and maybe a sub-conscious thought like there but the grace of God goes I.
Now of course there would be a whole range of beliefs that people could have towards those who are poverty stricken and we might even find a blend of beliefs in the same person based on the idea that different situations mean different things. So we might find a belief which can accept a poor person in a developing country but not a first world country which has greater welfare and employment opportunities.
The point is that what we believe shapes how we see things, how we see events and people. If you listen carefully to each other most of us can hear what other peoples belief systems include because most of us have a tendency to sprout our beliefs somewhat unknowingly. Most of us have little sayings which are like our life rules – they are our beliefs and they shape how we see people and things and how we respond to them.