Doubt, a status between belief and disbelief that involves uncertainty or distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, action, motive, or decision. Doubt brings into question some notion of a perceived "reality," and may involve delaying or rejecting relevant action out of concerns for mistakes or faults or appropriateness.
Doubt is at the forefront of today’s Resurrection story. The account we heard today is in two parts—one the very same evening of the day of the resurrection and the other exactly a week later. In both cases, we find the disciples hunkered down behind locked doors. Pilate had brought the charge of sedition against their leader accusing him of wanting to cause an insurrection against the authorities and the eleven had every reason to believe that they would be accused of that as well. They had gone into hiding for survival, but Jesus surprised them, well probably scared the living daylights out of them—walking right through the doors and into the middle of their fearful company.
Where was Thomas and why wasn’t he with the rest of them?” We could speculate until the cows come home. Was he out getting provisions? Had he decided it was time to break away from the whole thing? Did he have family who needed him? All of these and more have been entertained as possible answers to that question. I wonder, however, could it be that he was the only one with courage enough to be out in the world, continuing the work of Jesus? In any event, he was missing when Jesus appeared that Easter evening and, when the others told him what had happened, well, he had his doubts. The irony here is that it is Thomas alone who goes down in history as the patron saint of doubt—and becomes the brunt of it all, even the coining of the label “Doubting Thomas” for those who question the facts about things.
Ironically, the whole bunch of them were unbelievers. How odd that these intimate friends of Jesus who were so central to his life and ministry, who witnessed so many miracles, not the least of which was the raising of the dead man, Lazarus, how odd that they did not believe the revelation about his resurrection when Mary and the other women told them. They were female and thus had no standing in this male-dominated culture. So, if we’re going to talk about “doubt,” we need to look beyond Thomas. And, if any of us has our doubts, we’re in good company.
Theologian Frederick Buechner coined a memorable phrase: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it alive and moving.” The church that Jesus gave us, the church we have become, the church to which we invite others to make their home is not a church with all the answers. Most of us, at one time or another, continue to struggle with any of a number of anguished questions. But the best of religion is a search for meaning and community—a community which invites and includes everyone, no matter who they are or where they may be on their faith exploration.
It is in that experience where we find life and energy, healing rather than wounding, love rather than hate, the embracing of one another’s differences rather than an attempt to exclude those who differ from us—or don’t believe what we believe.
Søren Kierkegaard, the Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian, suggested that for one to truly have faith in God, one would also have to doubt one's beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person's thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the faith would have no real substance.
Faith, for Kierkegaard, is not a decision based on evidence that certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to pragmatically justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway—in spite of our doubt.
We tell the story of Thomas’ uncertainty every year on this Sunday after Easter because it is crucial to faith. We all have our doubts and we all have our fears. Sometimes it is easy to believe and sometimes it is not. Faith is a struggle, not a given. It was no easier for Thomas and the other disciples than it is for us. The spectacular, awesome news for the eleven gathered on that late Sunday afternoon was that Jesus did not come to chastise them for their cowardice, their betrayal, their lack of belief. He came to bring peace and forgiveness.
The difference between the disciples’ uncertainty and ours is that we are the “blessed” ones of whom Jesus speaks in this passage—those who have not seen yet do our best to believe.
The eternal truth is that the same spectacular, awesome good news awaits us on this Sunday after Easter. God walks right through our locked doors and intrudes in our lives to bring us that blessing of peace and acceptance. The locked doors may be metaphors for our difficulty in believing, our fears about our security, our poor self-esteem, our desperation, our profound human vulnerability and neediness.
What the Easter appearances of the risen Jesus to his friends guarantees is that there is no door in our life secure enough, bolted sturdily enough, that will prevent God’s walking right through it and bringing us God’s Shalom, the blessing of peace. This is, indeed, a story with a happy ending. For Thomas. For the rest of the disciples. And for us.