As a boy in the early 50’s I had my heroes. Roger Bannister who ran the world's first 4 minute mile. The
soccer players Stanley Matthews and Nat Lofthouse; many years later I visited the latter's mother in the care home near Bolton where she resided. Two cricketing heroes - one was the dashing Keith Miller - heretical because he was an Australian and the rivalry over the Ashes was intense. Above all, Tom Graveney of my beloved Gloucestershire; I once cycled to Cheltenham to watch him bat but he only made two runs. Funny having such heroes when I hated soccer and was totally useless at sport.....
These days I have four Bible heroes and being me they are probably unusual. First there is Elijah, seemingly
the first recorded sufferer from manic depression. Look at his antics at Mount Carmel as he taunts the prophets of Baal. First bringing down fire from heaven, then after massacring them, outrunning King Ahab's chariot to Jezreel, a feat that would leave modern day marathon runners far behind. Then sinking into a deep depression as he realises that he has seemingly achieved nothing and Jezebel was after him with malicious intent. The second hero is Job, another sufferer from depression albeit a different type. He was a huge influence on me when I suffered from the same condition after having to retire early; the final chapters of his book about
human suffering are among the most wonderful in all literature.
Then in the New Testament two of the disciples. First there is Andrew, Peter's kid brother. The approachable open minded disciple who never seemed to object to being the only one of the four fishermen (the other two being James and John) who was not in Jesus' closest circle, and who was quite happy being in Peter's shadow. Above all, Thomas. His 'day' falls in July and while I doubt if it will be marked extravagantly in the parish the least I can do is to make him the topic of my column this month.
'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and place my finger in the print of the nails and place my hand into His side I will not believe'. I always want to change one word of that - 'I CANNOT believe' rather than
'I WILL not believe'. He desperately wanted to believe that Christ was alive and we find Christ being very sensitive to this. Far from being Doubting Thomas he was in fact among the most loyal and bravest of all Christ's disciples as we see in other references to him in the gospels.
Searching Thomas rather than Doubting Thomas. He wanted proof in the way that Job wanted answers.
That is what unites my two greatest Bible heroes. The trouble is that Christianity is not like that because
religion is about faith rather than proof. That may be one of many reasons why it is so out of fashion in a
world where everything has to add up. We want God to be tidy and that is not how God is - because tidiness
is a human concept and God is above that.
I embrace the idea of an untidy God, one who does not provide easy answers and cannot be categorized.
I admire and respect those who have a secure and stable faith. But to me the Christian life is a pilgrimage into God, an eternal search for God. It is not stable, it does not conform to what Thomas aspired to having. God
by His very nature is mysterious and we must allow Him to be. Thomas had the courage to ask questions; that is why he is my greatest hero and why I seek to be like him. Asking questions of God is not wrong, doubt is not wrong. Questions are part of the search for God that we should all have, part of the Christian pilgrimage.
Very best wishes, Paul