This last Sunday we heard the story of doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31), again. I wasn’t going to preach on it and then I was reminded that doubt is everywhere, it is in our very nature, and has many different faces. Things we’ve heard or learned, things that have happened in the world, ways we’ve experienced grief or pain, things that we, ourselves, have said or done…so many many things lead us to doubt the presence of the Divine. The more I thought about it, the more amazing I realized it is that we believe in a Divine Essence at all.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
I can name as many times of doubting God as the next person. Any one of my episodes of doubting could have taken me off the deep end where I would not only give up on the church, but give up on God as well. But I have come to understand that what I am really doubting is who or what I think God is, not the actual existence of God. I doubt what I’ve been told, and taught, and absorbed about God. I’ve doubted the Bible, and the creeds, and church doctrine. I questioned what I had been told were the facts about God: God is in control, God will protect us, God doesn’t let bad things happen to good people, God is all-powerful, be good and God will reward you.
So, here’s an interesting thought… the word that is translated “doubt” conveys more than just skepticism. It conveys a lack of trust in or loyalty. Jesus never asks Thomas to believe in a set of doctrine. Jesus asks Thomas for heart-felt trust in him; and, in the Gospel of John, this means believing that Jesus and God are mystically One. If Thomas can’t believe that, then how will he be able to experience that unity himself?
Pastor Sean Gilbert, in an article in Seasons of the Spirit, wrote “According to the post-Easter story, what was at stake for Thomas – and now what is critical for the contemporary church – is not a pure and watertight belief system, but a radically open heart and mind.”
What if we approach our doubts with a radically open heart and mind? What if we used the distinctly uncomfortable place of questioning the existence of God as an opportunity to expand our thinking? To analyze what we’re struggling with, to read, to pray, to study, to talk to people, then reformulate and rethink our understanding of the Divine.
Plenty of people have taken the easy way out and given up on God. I am not one of those people. And you must not be either because you’re reading this!
Joan Chittester, in her book Between the Dark and the Daylight, shares this story:
Once upon a time, there was a bird that sheltered in the withered branches of an old tree that stood in the middle of a vast deserted plain. One day a whirlwind uprooted the tree. The bird was bereft. What would he ever do now? Where could he go? There were no other trees in sight. There were no berry bushes in this place. There were no companions with whom to flock for support. Alone and distraught, he flew and flew and flew hundreds of weary miles in search of sanctuary. Almost in despair and ready to give up, he suddenly saw it. There, over the last dune, was a forest of young trees. Each of them heavy with fruit. And thus began a whole new life.
Of course, there was no certainty for the bird that the next tree would be there for the rest of its life, either. And so, like our ideas about God, they serve us well for a while, and then it is time to move on to improved understandings and deeper knowledge.
Times of doubt and unbelief can become places of growth. It is our choice. Will we give up or will we rethink our understanding of God? Will we give up or search for the answers to the tough questions? Will we give up or grow?
Love & Light,