doubt

The Cure for Doubt

John 20:19-31

Nonbelievers aren’t the only ones with doubts. People who call themselves Christian sometimes have doubts about Jesus, the resurrection, and how it all applies to them.

It’s not surprising we can struggle in such ways. The Easter story lives on the edge of fantasy—a man most undeniably dead leaves his rock-sealed, heavily guarded tomb and appears to hundreds in an indestructible state. Even more remarkable, we are to understand this event as a mere beginning, a foreshadowing of a radical change in creation that eventually will result in our own transforming, death-defeating resurrections.

Our doubts arise for a simple reason. Despite the promises of the Easter story, the world keeps smacking us around. We lose people close to us. Worry about the immediate future overwhelms us. Sometimes we simply experience intellectual doubt, our rational minds telling us to stick to what we can see as the basis for reality.

In today’s resurrection story in the Gospel of John, we find the disciple Thomas very doubtful. Thomas had seen the man he called teacher, Lord and master crushed by the power of the world, and he quickly fell into a rigid cynicism. Even when his fellow disciples excitedly told him they had seen the risen Christ, he was not impressed.

Let me see the hands, he said. Let me stick my fingers in that horrible wound in his side. I wonder if we’re supposed to read his words with a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Look, they riddled him with holes, including a spear-sized one running through his lungs and heart,” I hear him saying in the deepest, darkest corner of his soul. “You really think he is walking around?”

Thomas had to wait a week, but Jesus accommodated his request, appearing for his wavering disciple’s sake. Touch the wounds, Jesus said. Believe.

We see Thomas’ doubt cured. I believe that in this story we also can find a cure for our own doubts.

Even if we don’t see Christ physically present, our doubts can be relieved by an inner experience of God. That idea certainly fits with today’s story. Even the disciples needed to experience something more than the physical Christ to grasp the truth of Christ’s resurrection. This is why we have this account of Christ breathing on them, providing an early Pentecost, an experience of the Holy Spirit to sustain them.

The risen Christ breathes on us, too. We simply have to put aside doubt long enough to open ourselves to a similar encounter with the Holy Spirit, that aspect of God resident in Christ.

I am perplexed by how resistant people are to the simple acts that trigger the experience, even people who have long called themselves Christians. When I spend time with Christians struggling with doubt, I find they have a basic problem: They’ve forgotten how to spend time with the one who gave them their first taste of eternal life.

We encounter God most directly by spending time in prayer, learning the stories of the Bible, and worshiping so the Holy Spirit can work in us and through us as a group.

I know. I sometimes sound like a broken record with all this talk about praying, reading our Bibles and going to church. It is the Methodist in me. We suffer needlessly when we fail to methodically use the means God has given us to draw near him. When we do draw near, we allow God’s Spirit to whisper to our spirits.

Those who spend significant time in such activities can testify that the ensuing experience is as good as seeing Jesus in the room. Christ breathes on us, and doubt flees.

Advertisements

Doubts

John 20:19-31

What is doubt? And what is doubt’s antidote?

In the 20th chapter of John, beginning at the 19th verse, we find the story of Jesus appearing to a terrified band of disciples. Mary Magdalene had told them Christ is risen from the dead, but the news gave them no comfort.

Certainly, these disciples were afraid of the Jews who had crucified Jesus. It’s also likely that they, having failed Jesus in his time of need, feared what the risen Christ might say or do. They doubted the resurrection had really happened; and if it had happened, they doubted where they stood with the one who had overcome death.

The door to the room where they huddled was locked, but a lock is no barrier for a body that has defeated death and is now indestructible, infused with the unrestrained power of the divine. Jesus appeared among them. It was not to chastise them, however. Instead, the risen Christ told them repeatedly, “Peace be with you.”

And peace they had, it seems. They moved from fear to rejoicing; doubt had vanished.

All of Jesus’ key disciples were present except Thomas. When he returned, he refused to believe in the appearance until “I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side.”

A week later Jesus appeared to Thomas with the same message: “Peace be with you.” He even invited Thomas to touch the scars. And of course, Thomas believed.

So, what is doubt? Looking at this story, it seems to be more than just lack of evidence. It is a guardedness brought on by a belief that a situation cannot improve, despite what others are saying. Certainly, we are more likely to feel doubt when we find ourselves in a particularly sticky mess.

There is a lot of doubt in our world today, and I’m not talking just about religious doubt. People feel stuck in all sorts of ways, and a lot of them don’t feel any kind of institution, agency, cause or movement can free them.

As the church, bringing people an experience of the risen Christ is our way of helping to cure some of that doubt. We are, after all, a people who believe in the resurrection, a people of hope. Our rallying cry is “Peace be with you.” And there are actions that must coincide with our words, actions that bring peace.

Somewhere in our community, there are children who fear each day because they face abuse, hunger or neglect. The true church, acting as Christ’s body on earth today, finds them, rescues them, feeds them and loves them, bringing the peace of Christ to their lives. We participate in such activities now, but we need to do more.

Somewhere in our community, there are people suffering a crisis of identity, people who feel they have no value because they lack a job or a family or a relationship. The true church finds them, helping them learn they are first and foremost children of God. We brush against these people occasionally, but it’s time to fully embrace them.

Somewhere in our community, there are sinners, hard-core sinners, sinners who believe their evil is so great that nothing can be done to redeem them. They feel they can only smirk at or fear the church.

The true church tells them the work of redemption already is complete; belief is all that is required. And like the cowering disciples, these sinners find that in a relationship with Christ, there is no condemnation, only peace. We say our doors are open and we wait for these people to come to us, but we need to learn to go to them.

Somewhere in our community there are the mentally ill, the drunks, the drug abusers, the unwed mothers, the prisoners, the sick, the dying. The true church finds ways to rely on the Holy Spirit and creatively say to them, “Peace be with you.”

After all, we are the body of Christ on earth until Christ returns.