Summary: Jesus instructs us to have faith and believe, but how do we do that with our doubts?
Today’s gospel reading is one of the best-known Eastertide gospels – that of ‘Doubting Thomas’. We almost never hear the name of this disciple without the label of ‘Doubting’. Most people, no matter how non-religious, have heard about ‘Doubting Thomas’.
You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels we are told absolutely nothing at all about Thomas. He is just a name in a list of the disciples (Mark 3:18, Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15), a faceless man among the twelve. It is in John’s Gospel that he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then there are only 155 words about him.
Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, that the writer of John created Thomas as a metaphor with a unique personality of ‘doubting’. His story has entered the vocabulary of the world and is even used in common conversation. People who doubt or question the status quo are called ‘Doubting Thomas’.
Jesus admonished Thomas:
“Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27)
Jesus told Thomas to believe and accept His resurrection as true – to have ‘faith’.
What then is this ‘faith’ we are supposed to have? Faith is a complete trust or confidence in someone or something. It is, from a religious standpoint, a strong belief in God or certain doctrines based on spiritual apprehension, rather than proof. Jesus goes on to tell Thomas
“blessed are those who believe and have not seen”. (John 20:29)
In fact, not only Christians, but all human beings, really, live every day by faith.
• We go to sleep assuming by faith that we will wake up.
• We kiss our loved ones goodbye, having faith that we will see them again.
• We drive to the grocery store with the faith that we will return home safely with our groceries.
• We plant our gardens in the fall with faith that they will blossom in the spring.
And most crucially, we live every day knowing at some point that we will die, and that somehow it will be alright. But we cannot prove that, nor can we understand what really happens. These are all elements of ‘having faith’.
But does faith mean we do not doubt?
No, surely faith does not preclude doubt. Most people, if they are honest with themselves, will admit that they are troubled from time to time with doubts about what they they’ve been taught is true. Even the Saint Mother Teresa wrote of her doubts in her diaries, saying:
"[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, - Listen and do not hear--the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak "
Even this holy woman had doubts, yet her faith was strong.
Doubt is defined as: ‘a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction; a hesitancy to believe; not being certain about something, especially about how good or true it is.’
The writer, Frederick Buechner, put it this way, “If you don't have doubts you're either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith; they keep faith alive and moving.” Doubt is one of God’s most effective tools for producing mighty men and women of faith.
I submit to you that being a ‘Doubting Thomas’ and questioning life, especially its major events or problems, is not a bad thing. We should do it. When we ask ourselves difficult questions, we get answers that can deepen our faith and provide us with the tools we need to move to a more purposeful life and a closer relationship with God.
Indeed, we can learn a valuable lesson from Thomas: We must doubt and then move beyond doubt to faith. It is all right to doubt, but we must move beyond doubt.
Jesus told Thomas that those
“who believe even if they have not seen are blessed. (John 29:29)
Certain Christian doctrines and biblical stories simply seem illogical and flawed. They confound all reason and go against much of what we now know for sure, through science and experience.
So, what if we find ourselves with serious doubts. What should we do?
• We can accept that doubt is normal and healthy for human beings. All Christians, sometime during our lives, have doubts, questions and skepticisms. That is the way that God made us: to ask questions, to inquire, to think, to sort things out.
• As I mentioned, doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to a greater faith. Centuries ago, Copernicus doubted that the earth was the center of the universe. Christians of his era were using and quoting the Bible to prove that the earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus doubted the validity of those peoples’ interpretation and his doubting of their interpretation of the Bible led him to a larger and deeper understanding of our place in the world and the wonders of God’s creation. Galileo took this further to his own excommunication from the church, but a strengthened faith in God. Doubt often leads to deeper faith.