The resurrection of Christ is, far and away, the most astounding and unbelievable thing ever to happen. And as we know from today’s gospel, one of Jesus’ followers didn’t believe it – the one that we know as “Doubting Thomas”. And so, in honor of Thomas, we’re going to talk a little bit about the relationship between faith and doubt, and explore what Thomas might have been thinking when he walked into that room and heard the other ten disciples saying “We have seen the Lord.”
When a human being is confronted with a new piece of information, our tendency is to judge and process that information as quickly as possible. We like to make a “snap judgment” to determine if the new information is reliable enough to be added to our understanding of the world, and if not, we will discard it and not think about it anymore. Unfortunately, these kind of snap judgments are not usually sound judgments. More often than not, we judge new information based on whether it is consistent with what we already believe; in other words, we blindly accept information that we already agree with, and ignore information that we don’t agree with.
But if we are able to resist these instincts, then we can adopt a third position: the position of critical inquiry. We can reserve judgment about this new piece of information, apply our critical thinking skills, wait for additional data, evaluate the results, and then make a decision about the meaning of the new information. If we are really disciplined, we might even be flexible enough to re-evaluate that decision at a later date if circumstances warrant it.
This is the path that Thomas chose. Yes, Thomas expressed doubt about what he heard. Wouldn’t you? Thomas was the one being reasonable here; people don’t come back from the dead, not people who were dead for three days. That’s just wishful thinking. (And maybe the fact that Thomas was a twin explains some of his skepticism. Every identical twin that I’ve ever met has, at some point, played the old switcheroo to deceive a parent, teacher, or law enforcement official.)
So Thomas doubted. But he didn’t walk away. Even after a whole week went by, he still kept meeting with the other disciples. Can you imagine the tension in that room? For a whole week, Thomas had to play holdout while the other ten tried to convince him. And those ten, for a whole week, wondering if maybe Thomas had a point. Imagine them waiting, hoping that Jesus would make another appearance so that Thomas would believe, and so that their faith can be validated.
In any case, they stuck it out. And Thomas was granted the opportunity to see and to touch. Thomas’ doubts were resolved. And when his doubt was resolved, Thomas was able to do something that none of the other disciples did: he was able to know Jesus for who he really was: Lord and God. Thomas is the first disciple to correctly understand that Jesus was God; not just the messiah, not just the Son of God, but God.
Thomas kept the faith by holding on to his doubts.
Nearly two thousand years have passed, and we still have doubts. Information is flying all over the world at light speed; we have access to untold numbers of news articles, opinions, analyses, research; and also misinformation, fraud, manipulation, ignorance and error. The human ability to deceive has never been greater; it has never been so easy to lie and to get millions of people to believe your lies.
We are not facing a crisis of faith. We are facing a crisis of doubt.
And many of us are questioning what role God is playing in our lives in this time of great danger and great confusion. We ask, what is it mean to say “God loves us” when people are afraid, or suffering, or dying? We ask, how do I love my neighbor when I’m not even able to leave my house? We ask, how can we still be a church if we can’t even see each other in person? And we ask, where can we find God in all of this?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Resist the temptation to find the easy answers; instead, hold these questions in your heart, and hold fast to your doubts.
And as you ponder these questions, perhaps a few other questions might come to mind. We may ask, what drives people to do selfless acts of caring and compassion, such as working in a hospital, or nursing home, or even a supermarket? We may ask, what is motivating people who are choosing not to travel even though the travel bans are only sporadically enforced? We may ask, what are the forces that are driving some of our political leaders to put aside political gain and make difficult decisions that benefit everyone? We may ask, what is causing so many businesspeople to put profit on hold and work toward the common good?
We may even ask ourselves, what is something that I can do, today, that will make a difference?
It is our faith that allows us to live with the doubts and uncertainties raised by all of these questions. It is our faith that has taught us that God does provide answers for us; perhaps not as completely as we would like, or in the timeframes that we demand, but we do know that God is faithful.
Hold on to those doubts. Avoid the simple and quick answers. Keep steady in your faith, continue in your prayers, and don’t stop asking questions. May God grant that each of us be counted among the blessed: those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe. Amen.