You know, Thomas always seems to get a bum rap every year about this time. “Doubting Thomas” he’s called. Just because he didn’t happen to be there when Jesus appeared to the other ten Apostles the first time around. Earlier this week we read Luke’s account of what happened when Jesus came into their presence for the first time. He says they were frightened and scared and thought that they were seeing a ghost! So really, the other disciples were at least as skeptical as Thomas when it came to believing that Jesus had really been raised from the dead.
But later, I can just see them standing around talking to Thomas, putting on a big show: “Oh yeah, I was there when Jesus showed up last week. Yeah, he was right here. He looked pretty good. I asked him what took him so long and gave him something to eat.”
But really, when you look at it, Thomas was the one who wasn’t scared when Jesus came around again. In fact, Thomas made the leap from skepticism to a pronouncement of faith when he exclaimed “My Lord and my God!” This is a notable moment because it is the first time in any of the four gospels that anyone made the connection that Jesus of Nazareth is God. This is probably the best example of something that doesn’t get talked about very often. What doesn’t get mentioned very often is that it is O.K. to doubt! In fact, I’m going to go even further and say that doubt is essential for the growth of faith.
Now, doubt can manifest itself in various ways, and we have to be careful how we handle doubt. But which one of us hasn’t had passing thoughts similar to these at one time or another:
“Is there really a God who created all this and does he really love us?”
“Why am I getting up so early to go to church? Is it really necessary?”
“Is there really a heaven and a hell?”
“Why would a good God allow so much suffering?”
“Was Jesus really born of a virgin?”
'Is this really the body and blood of Christ?”
“Did Jesus really rise from the dead 2000 years ago?”
Have you ever asked yourself any of these things, or something similar, even for just a fleeting moment? I know I have and I’m going to suggest that we all have had similar thoughts at one time or another, but we’ve all grown through it and the proof of that is that we are all gathered here today. That’s why I say that doubt is essential for the growth of faith. Do we at 30, 40, 60 or70 years of age believe the same things now in the same way that we believed them when we were 15 or 20? Things that are alive are always growing. Things that are dead stop growing. If our faith is alive it should always be growing and the way that happens is through a healthy skepticism, just like the example of Thomas in today’s Gospel. We grow as human persons every time we make that leap of faith.
I say a healthy skepticism because there are unhealthy forms of skepticism, like pessimism and cynicism. Skepticism is great because even though there is questioning, even though there is some gnawing, lingering doubt, skeptics still have a vision of a better world, that things can change. A vision of a world that can and will be transformed for the good.
Pessimists have lost that vision of a world being transformed. Or able to be transformed. They believe that chaos has the upper hand and will retain control forever and there is nothing they can do. Their lives are lives of indifference because they believe there is nothing they or anyone can do to stop the chaos.
Cynics go one step further, they are not just indifferent, but they actually show contempt for all the good that life has to offer.
Our vision as Christians comes from the belief that somehow the world was changed at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection. That Christ has the upper hand and not chaos.And even though we might be somewhat skeptical about certain things, it is our hope in the power of the resurrection that brings us back here again and again.
But it is our doubt that allows us to grow.
——So then, every time we have some fleeting, doubtful thought, and we still show up here on Sunday, our faith has grown.
——Every time we see some bit of madness in the world, like what we’ve witnessed around here just in the last few days, and we still show up here on Sunday, our faith has grown.
——Any time our lives are touched with unexplainable loss or suffering, and we show up here on Sunday because we have this vision of a better world. Our faith has grown.
And we shouldn’t forget that our faith is not our own, but a gift from God, so we should never forget to pray for the faith of Thomas so we can join him in his proclamation: “My Lord and my God.”