Are there any of us who never have doubted our faith? If we’re honest, we can acknowledge that at some point, sometime in our lives, we have questioned or experienced doubt concerning some aspect of our faith.
But poor old Thomas. He has become synonymous with the idea of doubt. We even say “Doubting Thomas” to describe someone who finds it hard to believe. But is this fair to Thomas? The other disciples were acting just like him after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were behind locked doors, fearful, full of doubts, and suddenly, Jesus appears to them in their locked room! But Thomas wasn’t there. Imagine his fear and doubt when first hearing about Jesus’ appearance. Was it a delusion? Imagine Thomas’ quick, heart-thud anticipation that maybe, just maybe, it might be true! But how could someone appear in a locked room? Thomas wanted to make sure! He saw Jesus die on the cross. He knew how final that death was. And so, Thomas says: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
When we read our scripture passage carefully, we notice that Jesus never criticizes or shames Thomas for his doubts. Instead, Jesus meets Thomas on his own ground and offers him what he needs to make up his mind. Jesus shows him his wounds and invites him to touch them. Immediately, Thomas says: “My Lord and my God.”
Nowadays we often use these two words – Lord and God to mean the same thing, but for Thomas and the disciples they meant two very different things. Lord meant Master, their leader and teacher, and God meant God the divine. Thomas is realising that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Thomas’ declaration is one of recognition and acclamation. And Thomas’ doubts are gone forever.
Jesus realizes that it will not be easy for others to believe who come after the disciples. Jesus says to Thomas, “You believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Those of us who have not had the opportunity to see and touch Jesus’ physical wounds have to make that great leap of faith unaided without his physical presence with us. But we believe that the Spirit of Jesus is among us, guiding us and present with us in our daily lives.
Our beliefs don’t eradicate doubts, however, and even the most devout person may have occasional questions and doubts. Would you think that Mother Teresa could have had doubts? In one of her letters, published after her death, she says: “I have no faith – I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart, and make me suffer untold agony.”
If Mother Teresa could feel uncertainty in her faith, she – a saint dedicated to doing God’s work, then perhaps it is not such a surprise when other people, like us, have doubts, too.
Having doubts is part of life. It is normal. We question, we wonder, how can that be true? Where’s the proof? Having doubts is not a sin. It doesn’t make us failures. We learn through our doubts. We mesh through them and come out the other side stronger for our convictions. Maybe what’s important is not whether we have doubts, but what we do with our beliefs and how we help them to become stronger, regardless whether we have doubts or not.
It is said that when Barack Obama was President in the United States, he publicly declared himself to be a Christian when he addressed an Easter Breakfast meeting with Christian leaders at the White House. Obama was brought up by his Kenyan Muslim-turned-atheist father and agnostic mother, as well as his Indonesian, unorthodox, Muslim stepfather. You would think that with this upbringing, he would have had many doubts about the reality of Jesus Christ. However, Obama spoke reverently about his belief in Jesus, saying: “As Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered by faith in Jesus Christ. The possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character, and make whole the incompleteness of a soul.” Isn’t that a beautiful statement? And that ís the statement of a person who believes in the message of Jesus.
However, it is difficult to stand up and declare your belief in the salvation and redemption of Jesus when we live in a world which by its very nature works against a faith in things unseen. It ís a world which holds up a mirror and says: “Seeing is believing. What you see is what you get.”
We all love the cartoon strip Peanuts with Charlie Brown. Now Charlie Brown and Lucy go through several recurring routines, one of them being the football – you remember? Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick, and then, yes, she removes it at the last minute! Another recurring incident is the psychiatrist-patient routine. Lucy sits behind a booth with a hand-scrawled sign reading “Psychiatric help 5¢,” and Charlie Brown asks “Dr.” Lucy for advice. In one strip, he asks her about the function of dreams, and she replies: “It’s at night when you’re sleeping that your brain is really working, trying to sort out everything for you, trying to make you see yourself as you really are.” And poor Charlie Brown turns away saying, “Even my brain is against me!”
Charlie Brown sees what the world’s mirror shows him and he is disappointed. But Charlie Brown does show faith. After all, how many times can you believe that the football will still be there when you run up to kick it? Trusting Lucy not to take the ball away is a great act of faith!
Tradition says that the disciple Thomas travelled far and wide to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is said to have journeyed to India, Persia and many other places. Christians in India to this day devoutly claim that Thomas was there. Such dedicated travel is not what you’d expect from someone who still had doubts about Jesus Christ his Lord and God, and Thomas was eventually martyred for his beliefs.
When we look at the example of Thomas, the wisdom in his experience tells us that doubts are not wrong or bad, and that doubts can lead to a much stronger faith. We become open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit will interact with us, speak to us and guide us.
There are no barriers the world can put in place that can keep Jesus Christ from us. His power and glory are greater than anything or any doubts we may have.
Like Thomas, let us stand before Jesus the resurrected Christ, and let us make the same acclamation before Jesus our King: “My Lord and my God.” Amen.