“I Doubt It”
Years ago, back in my single days, my friends and I would play poker once a week. Unlike the current fad for playing the poker variation know as “Texas Hold-Em” we played all sorts of poker games commonly referred to as “Dealer’s Choice”. There were times when we would have impromptu poker games, which could be played without the use of a deck of cards. We would use $1 bills drawn at random from a “kitty” and the game had various names such as “Liar’s Poker or “I Doubt It”. Instead of cards, the players would take a $1 bill and use the serial number as their “hand”. A number 1 would be an Ace and numbers 2-0 would be the equivalent of cards 2-10 in a deck. There were, of course no face cards. The best hand would the most of one number. There were no straights, flushes, pairs or full houses. Someone would start the game by bidding his hand saying I have three two’s or three three’s, etc. The next person had to either bid higher or call your bluff. The object would be to lie as much as you thought you could get away with about the hand you had. We used the collective sum of the numbers of all the bills in use so the bidding could get quite high. A $1 bill has eight serial numbers so the maximum bid would be 8 times the number of players. If four people were playing, the highest bid could theoretically be 32 Aces, which would be highly unlikely. A player who bid higher than the number he actually held had to rely on the fact that some of the other players bills had the same numbers, which he could use. I have never seen a bill with eight numbers all the same. We once ran across a bill with six identical numbers, though. If another person thought you didn’t have the hand you said you had, they would call your bluff by saying “liar” or “I doubt it”. Let’s say the bidder had bid nine sevens. All the players would lay their bills down and you would count the total number of times the number seven appeared on all of the bills in play. If the number was equal to or more than the bid, the bidder would win and the doubter was forced to pay the bidder $1 and, if not, the bidder would pay the doubter $1. Some people would start out by flagrantly lying, maybe bidding three fives without having a single five in their hand, hoping someone with fives on their bill would up the bid. No one would call you a liar by saying "I doubt it" early in the game while the bids were low so it was usually safe to lie early on. As the bidding went on it became extremely risky to lie, lest you get caught. Sometimes, if your hand was really good you could tell the truth early and make a high bid, forcing the next player to bid something he didn’t have or call your bluff. The game got to be quite interesting, especially if there were four or more players playing. The lying bids and the truthful bids would go on until someone couldn’t go any further and said, “I doubt it”. Doubting someone stopped all the lying, all the stretching of the truth, all the maneuvering and forced everyone to tell the truth, to reveal your honesty, or your dishonesty, whichever was the case. Doubting someone was the great equalizer, the ultimate lie detector. To doubt was to lay your cards on the table and let the facts speak for themselves.
Doubting is a healthy part of life. Doubting forces the truth to the forefront where it can be seen and recognized by all for what it is. Those who have no doubt in their lives are either very manipulated people, very naive, or maybe they just don’t care about the truth. In any case, if either of these attributes is ascribed to a person, it is a sad commentary on that person. To believe everything one is told, without doubt, can lead to frustration and disappointment if you have been mislead. If you don’t doubt, simply because you don’t care, it means that you are lacking in spirit. A desire to know the truth is healthy and desirable and should not be discouraged. The truth will speak for itself and God will not dismiss a doubting spirit if it seeks the truth. We’ve all been around little children who incessantly ask question after question and, when told the answer, will invariably follow up with the word “why”? Why, why, why? It’s not that they doubt us or somehow believe that we are pathological liars, but they are trying to ascertain the truth and should not be discouraged from asking. Doubting, asking why, forces us to find answers to the difficult questions in life. Thomas doubted, not because he was lacking in faith but because he wanted the truth to be shown for all to see. He wanted to lay the cards on the table, so to speak. We’ve all been around the eternal skeptic, someone who does not believe anything he’s told even when the truth is laid out before his very eyes. There are those who doubt that man ever walked on the moon, that it was all an elaborate hoax. There are those who doubt that the Holocaust ever happened. Sometimes we cannot convince some people of the truth. I feel sorry for those individuals. Their confining views make them prisoners in their own mind. There is a passage by Jesus from John 8:32, which says, “…and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Jesus said, as recorded in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth, and the life”. In seeing Jesus, alive as his brethren had proclaimed, Thomas was set free, with no nagging doubts and no wondering. He was now free to let his faith flourish and grow, as were the others. They now knew the truth and were free.
We have come to call Thomas the “doubting” one, the one who dared question his faith. Thomas was only looking for answers, some proof to allay his fears, his doubt.
Thomas has received much negative press throughout the years but, as we saw last week, the other disciples too had their doubts. Upon hearing the fantastic tales told by Mary and the other women who had returned from the tomb with the unbelievable claim that Jesus was not there, that he was alive, and they had seen him on the road, the disciples dismissed them as so much nonsense. It took a visit from Jesus to open their eyes.
I must admit, or rather confess, that I was born a very gullible person. For many years I tended to believe what people told me because I was of the nature that I didn’t want or couldn’t believe that someone would knowingly lie to me. We refer to this sometimes as naivety. However, as I have grown older I have become somewhat more skeptical. I tend to keep an open mind when I hear or read something new, something revolutionary, something life changing. I have been fooled too many times by products that claim to grow hair, or by get rich quick schemes and, like Thomas, I too have doubted the resurrection of Jesus at times. I have doubted that my faith was valid. I have doubted whether Jesus really was divine, that he really was the Son of God. Some of my doubts had valid reasoning I thought. Why would Jesus, who healed the sick, raised the dead, brought sight to the blind, and preached a Gospel of love, allow someone I knew to suffer and die? Why were there wars? Why was there disease? Why so much crime, hatred and racism? Why? Does he even exist? About a year ago my faith was put to the biggest test, not by something bad that had happened but by three books I read. These books, “The DaVinci Code”, “DaVinci Decoded” and “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” told, with very meticulous detail, sholarly research and footnotes, stories about Jesus, his disciples and his relationships with his followers that were far different from any of the Gospel stories of the Bible I was so familiar with. The books were very gripping and read like a soap opera with disquieting claims about Jesus and his divinity that became more bizarre with every chapter. I must have been at a low point because I felt betrayed, let down by the very faith that had nurtured me to this point. Had the church let me down? Why would they lie to me? I felt empty and betrayed. It wasn’t until my two college-age sons decided to read these books that I opened my mind. My sons began to ask many questions. They began spouting the theories and conjectures from these books as if they were facts. My wife was appalled and became very concerned and rightly so because these young men, like so many others, tend to take to heart what they read. I (and my wife especially) had prided ourselves on the Christian upbringing of our sons, the fact that we had sent them through parochial schools and took them to church every Sunday and tried hard to practice our faith openly. And now, she felt, they had dumped it all because of a book. We realized they did not have the ability, the acquired skepticism that age, wisdom and experience bring, to doubt or question what they had read. My wife let me know in no uncertain terms that it was up to me, since I had read the books in the first place and was most at fault for our sons’ desire to read them, to set things right with them and to steer them back on course. This was hard to do, at first, since I too had my doubts and probably didn’t sound too convincing but as I started to caution them about taking these books too literally I began to see the answer. The more I talked with my sons about these books and the more I tried to discredit them, the stronger my faith became. I don’t know why my views changed so radically but I will credit the Holy Spirit. These books offered no “smoking gun” looking to annihilate the Christian faith. They really could not prove any of their claims beyond a reasonable “doubt”. Nothing they wrote or claimed in all those thousands of pages would stand up in a court of law, even in today’s permissive, anti-Christian society. The writers used a few historical facts; a hypothesis here and there and then tied them together by a theory, a fantastic theory. I don’t fault the authors of any of these books for they wove together very interesting stories laced to together by a few facts to make them credible, which made for gripping, plausible reading. I enjoyed reading these books I confess. I couldn’t put them down until I found out “whodunit”. (pause) I never did find out. Maybe, someday, they can prove their theories, maybe some day they will find the Holy Grail they are looking for but I “doubt” it. The Christian church has survived an onslaught for two millennium and, I pray, will doubtless survive and thrive for many more, emerging stronger than ever.
We remember, after John baptized Jesus, he went into the wilderness where he was tempted by the Devil. Just as Jesus was tempted, I told my sons, so we too are tempted daily with things that make us doubt our faith, make us want to “chuck it all” in favor of the easy life. Following Jesus will never be easy and Jesus never claimed it would be. Call it the work of Satan, the Devil or whatever; there is an ongoing attempt, I said, to make us doubt our faith. This is a natural occurrence in a secular society and happens all the time, even to the most faithful among us. This has been going on ever since Satan succeeded with Adam and Eve in the garden yet failed with Jesus in the wilderness for he doesn’t give up. It is nothing new and faithful followers through countless generations have felt the way my sons and I had felt. However, if we are able to resist these temptations to give up on our faith and if we are able to hold fast, we will emerge stronger in the end. There is no shame in doubting, I told my sons; the real shame comes in giving in to that doubt without a fight. The more we doubt and the more we question, the harder the Holy Spirit works within us to help us find the answers and the answers lead us to the truth and the truth sets us free. It has been said that adversity builds character. The adversities that all true believers in Jesus face day in and day out will only make them stronger in the end. I faced very serious doubts, much as Thomas must have. God, through prayer and reflection, led me through those doubts to find the answers. I feel stronger in my faith today than I ever have. The truth has set me free. I pray that the truth, found in Christ Jesus our Risen Savior, will set you free also. Amen.