Lent: Inside doubt

Three crosses on Mount Calvary at sunset (photo: Jill Fromer) BBC Radio 4's Sunday Worship and Local Radio make six journeys Inside Lent

Inside doubt - 16th March 2014

It is often believed that the opposite of faith is doubt. But for Jesus of Nazareth the opposite of faith is not doubt but fear.

Again and again he is heard to say,"Fear not", "Do not be afraid". Fear induces paralysis in body and mind. Fear brings about a refusal to journey beyond what is known.

Exercises and Readings

  • Take 10 minutes to relax and reflect on a time when you have doubted another person, a close friend or family member. What made you doubt them and what did it feel like?
  • Can you recall an occasion you now regret, when fear stopped you doing something? Can you now share what that felt like?
  • "We walk by faith not by sight. "What do you understand by this?
  • Can you imagine anything that would threaten your faith?

By contrast it is a mark of the great heroes of faith like St.Patrick that faith conquered fear.

"I did not proceed to Ireland until I was almost giving up", he wrote. "I give thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation."

Doubt on the other hand, though it can be corrosive of relationships, is also an essential part of the astonishing human capacity to be curious.

Relentless questions when matched to a great leap of imagination have led to profound discoveries in science and the most amazing journeys of discovery.

Patrick journeyed to Ireland in faith. Confident in his calling he still had many questions and was far from sure how events would turn out.

Yet any faith that does not allow questions is not faith but fear.

Reflection

Faith in the Bible is often pictured as a pilgrimage. Reflecting on faith, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives a list of great spiritual giants, like Abraham, who in trust, responded to the call of God by journeying to the unknown.

Jesus of Nazareth too is on a journey. He is asleep in the stern of a boat when a storm blows up causing his disciples to ask bluntly whether he cares if they all perish.

This is a cameo picture but it is painted on to a larger canvas. The people of Palestine were fearful of the sea. The sea represented the unpredictable forces of chaos. Just as the sea could, in a moment, sink a ship so the forces of evil could overwhelm both peoples and nations.

In the last book of the Bible the final victory of God is pictured as the great vision of a new heaven and a new earth where "there is no longer any sea".

The first Christians thought of the church as a boat tossed by the waves of persecution but, with Jesus, journeying still in faith and hope.

Prayer

God of all care and compassion, you take us through deep waters but never abandon us in the storm; we often walk in the dark but you never leave us without your light.

Be with us in the night time of our fear and in the day of our overconfidence that we may keep faith with each other as you have kept faith with us in Christ our Saviour.

More from the Inside Lent series...

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