Doubting Doubt

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Thomas is Christianity’s first famous doubter. Odd, since his doubt surfaced on the very day Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. A week later doubt disappeared.

What can dispel doubt today? Start by paying attention to how the Gospel of John is built. Its doubters are boxed in by stories of faith.

John starts by describing Jesus as “the Word become flesh . . . full of grace and truth.” Yet at the end of John 1, Jesus’ follower Nathanael doubts that Jesus is the real thing. Late in John’s Gospel all Jesus’ followers flee at his arrest. Hours later, Peter denies Jesus. They all doubt.
 
Then, on the very day of resurrection, Thomas doubts too. He isn’t there when Jesus pops in on his friends for what becomes their happiest hour ever. Soon they exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas sniffs, “Won’t believe unless I see Jesus’ wounds.”
 
A week later Jesus drops in and opens Thomas’s sceptical eyes. It’s Thomas’s turn for surprise: “My Lord and my God!” Doubter Thomas turns evangelist. There’s good evidence that he’s the first missionary to India.
 
Jesus blesses those “who have not seen and yet have believed.” Usually I doubt because I don’t see enough. Our lives often rattle between faith and doubt. How can we who do not see Jesus’ hands and feet daily absorb his grace and truth?
 
We catch glimpses of Jesus’ presence in crises. It is remarkable—and happens remarkably often—that hope overflows sadness at the grave of a parent, a spouse, a sibling, even a child. That’s a glimpse of grace and truth in hard times.
 
Beyond crises, though, we see grace and truth in ordinary things. Years after Mother Theresa’s death, the Sisters of Charity still cleanse the sores of Calcutta’s lepers. We see both Christ’s wounds in those sores and grace and truth in the cleansing.   
 
Close to home, where sisters and brothers in Christ look each other in the eye, work through disagreements, not turning their eyes away in fear or anger, we glimpse a bit of God’s grace and truth.
 
Through acts of grace, doubt swings to faith in ordinary or tough times. Take a couple I know in northern Ontario. Wilf and Fran immigrated to Canada ten years ago. Along with their cats and lots of stuff came long habits of spiritual apathy.
 
One evening they go to a rock concert. A young woman introduces herself; all three click. She invites them to her home and church. They soon show up. Later they take classes, become members. But no sparks. They’re on the margins and happy there.
 
That’s normal doubt–no sparks, just kind of blah.
 
Their son Kevin is born. On a visit to Europe, he’s baptized in their parents’ church. Wilf and Fran are still somewhere between their old home and Canada. They doubt about Canada, doubt about church and the people there. They doubt Jesus’ death and resurrection. Like Thomas, they long to see something more.
 
After Kevin’s baptism, they present him to the Canadian church. People there respond in unison, “We do, God helping us” to formal questions to pray for Kevin. They encourage him and his parents to live as God’s children.
 
Two years later another son is born. He becomes very ill, stays in hospital for some time. People visit Wilf, Fran and the infant. They pray. They call. They send meals. The whole family belongs.
 
They name the baby Thomas–because they remember their own doubt. They remember the first Thomas’s faith too after Jesus welcomed him despite his doubt. Fran and Wilf remember their own journey from doubt to faith–and recurring doubts too. Most of all they remember belonging to a community that loves them, supports them and their children. They see Jesus’ grace and truth.
 
Fran and Wilf point to that moment as the “something more” they needed. They belonged, were included, embraced. They buy a farm, settle in.
 
And it all started at a rock concert.
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