Faith and Doubt

Emilie Bouvier, "Springing"(Cowling Arboretum; Northfield, Minn.)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Dear Working Preacher,

Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

The Easter cry isn’t only for Easter of course. We are invited to start and end our worship services with this cry for this and the next six Sundays, as the church year invites us to celebrate Easter for a “week of weeks.” For while each and every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection (hence no fasting on Sundays, even in Lent), we have these 49 days between Easter and Pentecost in which to focus our attention on the resurrection and all God accomplishes through it.

At the same time, I am also mindful, on this day and with this text, of what God does not accomplish and, I suspect, so are our people. We are still climbing out of a recession. We are early on into what seems likely to end up being one of the most bitter presidential contests in years. Each of us has personal difficulties and tragedies, some of which we’ve shared with our fellow parishioners and pastor(s) and some of which we’ve kept to ourselves.

And so sometimes we come to church on Easter or in the weeks after and our alleluias ring hollow and Easter acclamations wear a bit thin. If this is you, or if you think it might characterize some of your folks, then the story of Thomas is right on the money!

Truth be told, and as I shared two years ago,
I think Thomas gets a bit of a bad rap. I don’t think he’s a “doubter” as much as he is a realist. I mean, he saw Jesus nailed to the cross and die. And so you can’t blame him for wanting a real encounter with a really risen Lord just like the other disciples got.

And that’s what strikes me about this story: the realism. Not just of Thomas, but the realism also about how hard it can be to believe, at times. When you read through the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you quickly realize that Thomas is not alone in his doubt. In fact, doubt isn’t the exception but the rule. No one — even after all the predictions — no one says, “Welcome back.” Or “We knew it.” Or even “What took you so long?” No. No one anticipates Jesus return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone.

Which makes me think that maybe doubt isn’t the opposite of faith but, actually, part of it, maybe even an essential part of it.

And this, in turn, shapes the way I hear Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Do you believe because you’ve seen? Blest are those who have not seen and yet come to believe!” I don’t think — as I used to — that Jesus is rebuking Thomas. Instead, I think Jesus is blessing all those — from John’s community up to our own — who have managed to believe without the benefit of direct experience; all those, that is, who have managed to come to a faith that is not the opposite of doubt but which lives with doubts and yet still finds a way to believe.

One of our fellow Working Preachers, inspired by a short video of Pete Rollins that I posted on my blog last week, asked if I’d write a series of Easter pieces on what it means to be “resurrection people.” It’s a great suggestion and idea. I don’t know if I can pull it off for the next six weeks, but I want to start by saying that I think resurrection people don’t feel the need to hide, let alone banish, their doubts, but believe in spite of and along side of their doubts.

Resurrection people, that is, don’t need to have it all figured out before coming to church, or helping out a neighbor, or feeding someone who is hungry, or caring for someone in need. If we have to figure it all out ahead of time, then we’ll never get started. Because, frankly, don’t you ever wonder if your acts of mercy or care make a difference? There are so many hungry people — will the few I can help really change things? There is so much hurt in the world — does the hand I extend or listening ear I offer really change that? I believe they do, but I, like you, at times wonder…and doubt. And yet because we are resurrection people, we believe as well as doubt and believing, even in this more fragile way, we act — we reach out, we feed, we care, we tend, we struggle, we work, we love, all without any guarantees, just a promise from the Lord who continues to bless those who believe amid their doubts and keep faith amid their uncertainties.

A week or two ago, I invited readers of my blog to “make room for doubt” and I’d suggest that maybe this is something we could do this Sunday during worship as well. Perhaps after talking about Thomas and faith amid doubt and Jesus’ blessing of not just Thomas or John’s readers but also of us — perhaps after talking about all this we could invite people to write down one question, one thing they wonder about, or one doubt they carry. Then we could, first, bless them for their doubts; second, bless them for their faith amid the doubts; and last, send them out keeping their doubts in hand — in a pocket or wallet or purse or whatever — as they work to be resurrection people by bringing the hope of Christ to those they encounter in need. As they go, remind them that the Risen is strong enough to bless our faith, bear our doubts, and use even people like us to make a difference in this world God loves so much. And, who knows, maybe a week or three down the road and that question will be answered or that doubt assuaged. Or maybe not. The point is that being faithful resurrection people isn’t having no doubts, but living with them.

Thanks, as always, for your good work, Working Preacher. I hope you had a blessed Easter amid all your responsibilities. Know that what you do, even when you wonder if it matters, makes a difference. For Christ is Risen, and we are called and empowered to be his resurrection people in the world.

In Christ,