Good Doubt? ~ 2nd Sunday of Easter, 2018 John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen... Christ is Risen, Indeed!
On this Second Sunday of Easter, we continue to celebrate the Resurrection... as we should! It’s a huge part of who we are, and what we do, as a community of faith!
Of course, last Sunday we visited the tomb... along with Mary Magdalene, Peter and John... only to find the stone had been rolled away... and Jesus gone.
We listened in as Mary encountered the Risen Christ... thinking he was the gardener... but when Jesus spoke to Mary, and she heard his voice... she recognized Christ... running to the disciples with the Good News, “I have seen the Lord!” It was the very first recorded proclamation of the Gospel...
Of course, our Gospel Lesson today takes up where last Sunday’s story left off! We’re told... the evening of that very first Easter Sunday... Jesus appeared to the disciples, who were gathered together. And when Jesus spoke to the disciples, showing them his hands and side... they were filled with joy... overjoyed... in other words, they were filled with unspeakable joy!
But Thomas wasn’t there to witness Jesus’ appearance... so when the disciples who’d seen the Resurrected Lord reported to Thomas what they’d seen... he infamously said: “Unless I put my finger in the place where the nails were, and my hand in his side, I will not believe...”
Thus... Doubting Thomas... the phrase itself forms a negative connotation, right off the bat! Pretty much everyone is hard on Thomas. And, because of that... because of the negative image painted in this story, many of us have developed the idea (or at least we’ve grown up thinking) that doubt is a bad thing.
We focus on Jesus saying, “Stop doubting and believe...” (and there’s a time for that, as there’s a time for all things). We tell ourselves and others that it’s not good to be a doubter! “Don’t doubt yourself...” we’ve labeled doubt... all doubt... as negative... bad... even sinful! After all, Thomas must have surely been one of the least of Jesus disciples... because of his doubting... because of his hesitancy to believe.
But maybe that’s not the whole story...
We’re told, a week later, when the Risen Christ again visited the disciples... Thomas was there! And Jesus never criticized or belittled Thomas for his doubts. Christ actually affirmed Thomas in his doubting... saying, “reach out and touch if that’s what you need”... and Jesus helped Thomas move beyond doubt to belief. He understood Thomas' initial skepticism.
I think Jesus was saying to Thomas (and to you and me), that “doubting is nothing to be ashamed of. Doubting is okay. Doubting is a part of life.”
And we all know it’s true! Having doubts about our faith (or about anything), is nothing, in itself, to be ashamed of, or to run away from or to hide from. And I, for one, think Thomas should be held up a role-model for how to deal with doubt... and uncertainties... and questions that bother us... and keep us from living the full and abundant life that Christ offers...
You know, despite what we’ve been told by all the “self-help gurus” and “smiling preachers” out there... we don’t always have to be sure about everything. If we had to be sure about everything it would negate our need for faith!
God does not require us to be doubt-free... to have all our ducks-in-a-row... to have everything figured out... or to have an answer for every question! God is calling us to be people of faith... a people who walk by faith, and not by sight! People who are willing to pause and listen, to question, to learn, to grow.
God’s continually calling us to be people who are aware of our need to acknowledge and discover what it is that we need to better understand. Which is to say (in other words) that God’s calling us to face our doubts, honestly and openly. We need to have courage and good sense enough to understand and deal with our uncertainties and doubts.
NOT in cynical disbelief... NOT a doubt that refuses to hear... or to see... or to touch... in order to find. Cynical disbelief is destructive to faith... and relationships... and to life in general! Because it doesn’t seek a positive outcome! Cynical disbelief is anti-productive... it’s self perpetuating... cynical disbelief breeds disbelief!
But a doubt that causes us to seek... the motivational, purpose-driven kind of doubt... that acknowledges our limitations and keeps us on the path of revelation... the path of faith... the journey of life in Christ... that kinda doubt is good.
Doubt... good doubt... causes us to search for truth... to seek answers... and God’s Word tells us “Those who seek, find” (Matthew 7:7) and “When we seek him, we will find him, when we seek him with all our heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Hebrews 11:1 tells us “Faith is confidence in things hoped for... the assurance of things unseen...”
I know it sounds strange... but hear me out! FAITH actually implies doubt! Faith professes a degree of uncertainty by nature... Faith implies a certain amount of uncertainty. In other words... without some uncertainly, without some sense of doubt, faith would be un-necessary. In fact, there would be no such thing as faith without doubt! And God’s Word tells us that “without faith it’s impossible to please God.”
Thomas had the courage to admit his doubt... he refused to hide it... or be ashamed of it. He didn’t try to brush his doubt aside, or sweep it under the rug... but rather, he chose to deal with it! He spoke-up and questioned the truth of what he had been told. He did not let his doubting stop him from growing, and changing. And God used Thomas’ doubt in unison with his faith to discover the truth...
And God will do the same for us...
Times of doubt do come... and will come... for all of us... just as they came for Thomas. The Good News is that doubting can become positive and helpful. As growth can come through pain, so faith can come through doubt.
Like Thomas, you and I are called to move through times of doubt to moments of decision.
And if we’ve been honest in our doubts, our decisions of faith that follow times of doubt will be more honest and firmer and more certain... the more committed we will become... as we move along our journey of faith.
The Christian Faith has never been based on a totally blind decision... God’s Word calls us to “come and see” to “taste” to “hear” to “experience” faith. Faith is achieved through a process that moves beyond emotionalism and sensationalism. Faith is reached by reason, and experience... and a seeking spirit... that most often... includes doubt.
My prayer is that each and everyone of us... as Followers of Jesus Christ... will have the courage to face our doubts... honestly, collectively... as the Holy Spirit renews our faith, and helps us to affirm... time and again... that Christ is Risen...
That truth of our faith, birthed in doubt, transforms us into the Easter people... the Resurrection people... God intends us to be.