Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Some years ago when Stevie Wonder visited the Crystal Cathedral in California one Sunday for the church service, he shared the words of a song.
I don’t know if he wrote these words, but the song goes something like this:
We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed.
That’s tells me that we can overcome a spirit of pessimism, because God has a wonderful plan for my life and yours. And that’s what I was talking about in the first part, and I want to touch on it again now—but in a slightly different way.
I am reminded of one figure in the New Testament who was a pessimist, and a negative man. I’m referring to Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. He was a great man, and yet full of negativity. There are three occasions in the New Testament when we read about him in John’s gospel and each time there is a strong note of negativity in his make-up. This man was a pessimist—although he probably would say a ‘realist’. He did not have much time for the wide-eyed optimists of his day. Whereas for people like Peter the glass was always half full, for Thomas it was always half empty!
Here is an example: in John 11:1-6 Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is close to death and he delays for a few days where he is. Then he says to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea to see Lazarus”. The disciples were horrified at the idea: “Lord let’s not do that. Only recently the Judeans were trying to stone you. It’s not safe.”Jesus then informed them that Lazarus had died and that he was going to his grave. And that’s when Thomas said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” These are pessimistic words indeed. They anticipate that Jesus will be killed and that his disciples also will die.
But before we condemn Thomas for his negativity, let’s notice the sheer courage in these words: If Jesus is going to die as a martyr for the truth then let us die as martyrs too. Note also that Thomas’s words were not untrue. Perhaps he alone, of the disciples, saw the reality of the situation. That Jesus was going to be killed. From a human point of view Thomas was quite right. But he failed to bring God into the equation. Yes, Jesus was going to be killed, but God was going to raise him. And his death was going to be the means of salvation for the whole world. Thomas didn’t know this—he just looked at the situation from a human perspective.
The Sceptical Approach
I said before that looking at the world today with honest eyes we can become very pessimistic—all the wars, corruption, global problems. We can get very negative. But that’s leaving God out of the equation. We must have faith in him, his divine purpose for his world and the power of his Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel, chapter 14, Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room. He is telling them he will leave them and go to prepare a place for them.
They don’t know what he is talking about and Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:5-6 – NIV). Thomas said “how can we know the way?” These are the words of an uncertain and sceptical man. I’m sure many people today ask the same question—those who can see no purpose in life. But the answer lies in the words of Jesus: “I am the way”. So I have to say Thomas was an uncertain man, a sceptical man.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:5-6 – NIV)
And there is another passage in John’s Gospel, chapter 20. Here we read that Jesus rose from the dead and showed himself to his disciples. But Thomas was not there. So he doubted—he refused to believe the words of his friends. He told them straight, I don’t believe you. It’s not that I think you are liars. It’s just that I think you are self-deluded. You really wanted it to be true and so you imagined it. This was Thomas’ way of looking at it. When Jesus appeared again he rebuked Thomas gently: “Stop doubting and believe.” And then Thomas came out with his wonderful words of faith: “My Lord and my God!” These were not the words of an unbeliever.
Thomas had what we would nowadays call a scientific outlook. He was a sceptic. Modern science has made great strides using the tool of scientific scepticism. That is: you don’t believe anything until you have evidence for it. And not just evidence—you need proof. You need hard evidence, not just second-hand stories. And that is a good thing. Centuries of superstition and error have been stripped away and the human race has benefitted greatly.
I would not like to live in a world where witches were burned and medical treatment consisted of being bled and purged. I would not like needing to have an operation in a world without anaesthetics or antiseptics. Or to live in a world without cars or trains, or TV or radio, or telephones. We have all benefited from science. The sceptical approach has born fruit.
But in one area it cannot work. In one area it hinders rather than helps. And that area is the spiritual realm. Science leaves God out of the equation and it cannot deal with matters of faith. So poor old Thomas also had left God out of the equation. He had failed to see that the power of God was capable of raising Jesus from the dead.