Believing in Doubt
Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. Oh Thomas, ye of little faith. That’s what we want to say. At least aloud so those around us can hear. We want to focus on the doubt of Thomas. . . point out that he wanted to touch the wounds of Christ to believe. . . had to at least see to believe . . . We want to lift ourselves up and echo the words of Jesus saying “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Then in our arrogance we add, “and pity the fool who doesn’t”.
The Truth be told, Thomas gets a bit of a bad rap. Unlike us, he actually saw Jesus nailed to the cross and die. And so can we blame him for wanting a real encounter with a really risen Lord, just like the other disciples got?
As much as we would like to concentrate all of the doubt on Thomas, he was no more disbelieving than anyone else. Earlier that morning Mary told the other disciples that she had seen the risen Lord. Yet they were found hidden behind locked doors afraid of the authorities. If they truly believed that Christ was raised from the dead should they not have been out on the streets proclaiming it boldly? Is that where Jesus finds them?
When you read through the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you quickly realize that Thomas is not alone in his doubt. In fact, doubt isn’t the exception but the rule. No one — even after all the predictions — no one says, “Welcome back.” Or “We knew it.” Or even “What took you so long?” No. No one anticipates Jesus return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone. [i]
That includes you and it includes me. I think this is why the gospel writer identifies Thomas as “the twin”. It force us to ask the question, “Just who is Thomas a twin to?” Then when we attempt to answer that question we realize that “doubting” Thomas is a twin to all of the faithful.
Let’s face it, believing is hard. That is the truth of it. So maybe a faithful part of believing is admitting that. Admitting how hard it is to believe at times. Admitting that we know it is hard to believe when we know there is suffering in the world, and not just the world beyond these doors, each of us has personal difficulties and tragedies, some of which we’ve shared and some of which we’ve kept to ourselves. Illness, job loss, broken relationships, addictions, abuses made to and against one another.
We read the Thomas story on the second Sunday of Easter every year. Maybe this is to encourage us to admit that already our Easter alleluias are ringing a little hollow, and that into our Easter pronouncement of “He is Risen” has crept a little doubt. Maybe doubt isn’t the opposite of faith but, actually, part of it, maybe even an essential part of it.
What this story gives us is the ability to place ourselves in that room with Thomas and the other disciples. To illustrate that we too, have our doubts and fears . . . that we too remain behind closed doors when Jesus has clearly sent us out into the world. It allows us to admit that we don’t just readily believe that Jesus is resurrected . . . that Jesus lives.
There is something freeing about admitting to our doubts . . . our disbeliefs . . . our humanity. Lutheran professor David Lose writing on what it means to be resurrection people says,
I think resurrection people shouldn’t feel the need to hide, let alone banish, their doubts, but believe in spite of and along side of their doubts. Resurrection people, don’t need to have it all figured out before coming to church, or helping out a neighbor, or feeding someone who is hungry, or caring for someone in need. If we have to figure it all out ahead of time, then we’ll never get started.[ii]
You might be surprised to find out that a favourite theologian of mine openly admits he doesn’t believe in the resurrection. Peter Rollins says,
Without elusiveness or hesitation, I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…I deny the resurrection of Christ. I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed . Deny it each day that I turn my back on the poor. I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and when I lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.
Looking at it this way, it is easy to see how we all, at least some of the time, clearly deny Christ’s resurrection. That we are no different from Thomas, or Mary, or the disciples or any other of Jesus’ followers. That we all live in this world of fear and doubt. And if that is the case what is the point of wagging a finger at those who doubt . . . those who don’t always stand firm in the faith. The way I see it that only serves to make our religion more about right belief, and less about relationship with God and one another.
The purpose of this resurrection appearance is not so much to prove the resurrection as it is to send the disciples as Jesus had been sent. Just like Easter is not so much about just coming to a wonderful, inspiring worship service, as it is more about being sent back out into our world of fear and doubt. Sent empowered by the Holy Spirit . . . sent to bear witness to the identity of God . . . to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus . . . To love as he first loved us.
It is easy to think Jesus’ appearance to Thomas is about right belief, about overcoming doubts, about believing in resurrection. But this story is much more than that. In this story we are given the opportunity to be real and honest. By seeing ourselves in Thomas we are freed to experience the living Christ. We are, like Thomas, offered the chance to touch open wounds.
So what’s the good news?” What is the gospel for all of us “doubting Thomas’s”? To find the gospel we need only go back to the text and ask ourselves, “What is it that God does here?” Twice in this short text Jesus says, “Peace be with you”. It is easy to dismiss this as a standard greeting of Jesus, but in the entire gospel of John, Jesus says this only three times. Twice in today’s text, and once back in chapter 14, where Jesus is promising the coming of the Holy Spirit.
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:25-27)
This is more than just a standard greeting and Jesus wasn’t the first to use it “Peace be with you” is a greeting used by God in the Old Testament . . . Used when God approaches humans and they tremble with fear of punishment (example Judges 6:23). It is a greeting that communicates to the one seeing the divine, that they will not be harmed. Jesus is telling us, and the disciples not to fear. . . telling us that he will always be with us even after he is physically gone. Jesus knows that we are full of doubt and fear. Jesus knows that it is hard to be in this world and yet not of it. Jesus knows there will be times when we will abandon him and deny his resurrection . . . deny that he has conquered death and lives.
Jesus knows all this and what does he do? Does he abandon us? Does he admonish us and promise us damnation? Is that what Jesus does?
It is not is it? Jesus appears among the disciples . . . the broken . . . doubt filled . . . fear filled, cowardly disciples. He breaks through their closed, locked doors and hearts, and says, “Peace be with you”. It’s absurd isn’t it?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe. Blessed are you for your faith amid your doubts and fears. Blessed are you as you work to be resurrection people by bringing the hope of Christ to all those you encounter in need. The Risen Christ is strong enough to bless our faith, bear our doubts, and use people like us to make a difference in this world that God loves so much. For being faithful resurrection people isn’t about right belief, or about having no doubts. It is about living with, in and among them.
May it be so among us. Amen.
[i] Lose, David (2012) “Faith and Doubt” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=577 accessed April 9, 2012