“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
If we are not already, we should grow comfortable with Tennyson’s notion. The opposite of faith, as Anne Lamott puts it, is “certainty – not doubt.” But I don’t think we teach this well in the church. And that’s a shame. I’m really not sure what we are so afraid of about doubt. Doubt is natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy. Doubt should be encouraged.
But I think that’s the point of this story. Fear. Too many are afraid to doubt.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples locked themselves in a room. They felt their lives were hanging in the balance. And so instead of protesting the death of their teacher and friend. Instead of marching or instigating a hunger strike or calling for a boycott against Pilate and the Roman government, they snuck away and found a room where they could hide away for a bit. And then they locked the door for safe keeping.
We understand this, don’t we? We understand, a visceral level, the fear they experienced.
I never go to bed that I don’t check every house door to make sure it’s locked. We love our walls and our fences and our security systems … and our locks. Because the truth is – we are motivated by our fears.
And on a national level, all of our presidential candidates are banking on fear to get them elected. On both sides. Recently, when one candidate was asked what the top three issues the new president must tackle were, the response was “security, security, security.” Really? Those are the top three things? No education? No healthcare? No economic opportunity? Only security? That kind of fear keeps us all locked up with just ourselves and our people – be it in our own homes or in our own land.
Michael Palmer, Pastor at Living Vine Church, puts it this way:
“Every single day we’re told to be afraid. From crime rates, to unemployment, terrorism to isolation, we are a people living in fear. We’re told to fear Isis. We’re reminded that we’re on the brink of nuclear war with an untold number of countries. We’re told to be afraid of immigrants. We’re afraid of sickness. We’re afraid of loss. We’re told to be afraid of the wealthy. We’re afraid of what we lack. We’re afraid of our failures. We’re afraid of our past. We’re afraid of each other . . . We’re a people afraid, and that fear has trapped us.”
Now don’t get me wrong – I like feeling safe and secure; I think fear is one of the hardest and harshest of emotions. I don’t blame the disciples. I would have been right there with them locked up in that room. And then what does Jesus do? He enters their midst. I could care less how it happened or what it looked like if they saw anything at all. In whatever fashion, Jesus entered their midst - unannounced and uninvited. They thought he was dead, and did not fully understand Resurrection any more than we do today.
But I love what happens next – no running bear hugs, no falling to his feet, no grabbing him a chair so he can pull up to the table of decisions with them – he simply said Peace to them, and then he Breathed on them. And they experienced sudden, unexplainable Peace.
Unfortunately, that day in that locked room, the disciple Thomas - “Doubting Thomas” - wasn’t there. He didn’t experience anything for himself, and he doubted not so much, Jesus, but he doubted his fellow disciples' experience of Jesus. Thomas had to rely on the experience of the others. And that wasn’t enough for him. He wore his doubts on the outside – not afraid to say it out loud . I have to see it to believe it.
One week later the disciples were back together in their room. Thomas was with them this time and Jesus came over them again with his consistent word Peace. And Thomas was given the space, without condemnation, to bring his doubt. He ends up with the most profound of proclamations as is found anywhere in the New Testament – My Lord and My God.
And how did Thomas get there? Through a Blessed Doubt.
As David Lose explains in a recent post, “All of that comes after Thomas has a chance to voice his doubt. And sometimes faith is like that – it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to really spring forth and take hold. Otherwise, faith might simply be confused with a repetition of creedal formulas, or giving your verbal consent to the faith statements of others. But true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes, I think, from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt.”
I went to our Deacons’ meeting and some Sunday School classes one Sunday morning and said, “Tell me what you doubt about God.” This is what they told me:
I doubt that God intervenes;
I doubt that God is all good;
I doubt that God exists;
I doubt life after death;
I doubt that God is in control of everything;
I doubt that God is personal;
I doubt that we will ever see, “On earth as it is in heaven;”
I doubt that God is in control of everything;
I doubt that it’s all a part of God’s plan;
I doubt the literal reading of the Bible;
I doubt that “It’s God’s will” is ever a good answer.
I’ll be honest. As a preacher, hearing these doubts spoken made my stomach churn just a bit – like a bolt of lightning might come in on us for actually speaking these words out loud. But I also firmly believe that the questions we have, and the doubts we hold, have the potential to deepen our faith journey.
Finally, one of our deacons said it best - at least for me: “I doubt A LOT of things, but I choose to live as if I believe.” I like that.
You know there’s a saying – I hear it fairly often – Have Blessed Day! If you really want to explore your life of faith, more than Have a Blessed Day . . . Have a Blessed Doubt. And perhaps you will join Thomas in saying, "My Lord and My God."
May it be so. Amen.
Photo by Kyle Broad