Believing and Doubting
True story: A minister named Sally was preaching about doubting Thomas, and she said during her sermon that doubt can be good, because it can lead us to a deeper knowledge, ... and right at that point in her sermon, someone stood up somewhere in her congregation and shouted that she was from the devil. Nice. Some people are desperately afraid of doubt; afraid of questions; afraid of anything that challenges the status quo; even afraid of God.
I don't believe in 'being afraid of God.' I do believe that Reverend Sally was right in saying what she said about doubt. There are things we should doubt. There are things we should question. There are things we should challenge.
There are also things we should believe, but only because God has placed that belief in ourhearts and in our minds, not because someone else told us that we had to. There are things we should not believe, because God has placed questions in our hearts and in our minds. God wants (and needs) active seekers, thinkers, questioners, theologians, ... not blind followers.
So let me list some things that I don't believe, and some things that I do believe – at least at this moment in time.
I do not believe that God wills hunger and poverty for the planet's children. I do not believe God organizes the death of anyone, young or old. I do not believe God hates our questions and detests our doubts. I do not believe God wishes us to accept everything without debate. I do not believe Reverend Sally is from the devil. That's an easy one, since I also don’t believe in the devil (I believe in evil, just not the devil as a real character).
I do not believe God likes the status quo that denies so many people freedom and health and life. I do not believe that God is silent in the councils of government, although I do believe that governments often disregard God's voice. I do not believe God approves of everything said and done in the name of religion. I do not believe that God speaks only through words. I do not believe God can be understood only through the interpretation of scholars. I do not believe God was finished speaking to us after the publication of the Bible. I do not believe God is limited by human description.
I do believe God loves us. I do believe God loves us so much that death was defeated on that first Easter morning, and life began anew. I believe what I can grasp, and hold, and touch, and also, what I cannot grasp, but what I know deep within. I have not seen the empty tomb, but I believe in the Risen Christ. I have not seen God, but I have seen God's Creation, and I have seen God at work in people's lives, and I believe in God. I have not seen heaven, but I believe in heaven. I believe that this life is only a small portion of what God has in store for us. And I have seen that truth come to life in countless ways as people I know and love and trust have told me their stories of deep faith, of spiritual experiences, even of miracles. And I am thankful that God has, (through those conversations and through those special people), let me catch a glimpse of the truth, I am thankful that God has given me a glimpse of the future, and that God has strengthened my faith. . ......
Doubting and believing. What a fascinating thing is this human brain that God has given us. Every one of us is so similar, and yet so different. Some people might think that all Christians believe the same things, but they would be greatly mistaken - because God has given each of us such a wonderful, and a unique mind. None of us is exactly like any other one. None of us thinks exactly like any other one. None of us believes exactly like any other one. And that’s just as it should be.
Alfred Tennyson once said, "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds." And he was right. The creeds are great. I think we need the creeds. And I think we have to keep working on new creeds to express some of our beliefs, the ones that we can come close to agreeing about. But none of them match exactly with what any one of us believes, about everything.
We're not computers - programmed all the same to perform the same functions and to regurgitate what has been entered into us. We're not robots. We're human beings created in the image of God. And sometimes we have doubts. That’s the way God created us to be. And so we should never be afraid of our doubts.
Most of the best theological conversations I've ever had have been the result of someone's honest doubt, or someone's very real questioning. In fact, some of that has happened just lately. Some of our small group discussions at Spirit Path are great! We try to create an atmosphere where people can say anything they want, ask any question they want, express any viewpoint they want. And it's working! And it means we get way off track sometimes, but it's fantastic. And it means that I have to constantly be on my toes, and constantly be ready for something out of left field, but I love that kind of dialogue, and I love the honesty of people's questions.
Even the society around us is asking questions that they've never asked before. And that is frightening a lot of people, especially very religious people who have been brought up not to question anything. But for some of us, it's a very exciting time. It's opened people's minds, and for some people it’s opened up the Bible in a new way. It has people talking about Jesus and about God, people who haven't done so for a long time. And some of those doubts are being turned into conversations and good things are happening because of it.
The disciple Thomas shouldn't be renounced for doubting. I think he should be praised. He was honest with himself and he was honest with Jesus, and guess what happened as a result. He was shown what he needed to be shown, in order to believe. I like to think that if we take our doubts and questions to God, God will, in the same way, show us what we need to see, or hear, or understand, in order for us to believe.
That may come directly from God, or, more likely, it may come from fellow travelers along the road of faith. …
Perhaps like this: a minister was on a youth mission trip a few years ago, and one of the boys had hurt himself, had cut his foot fairly badly, and she took him to the ER along with one of the boy’s friends who just tagged along to keep him company. They were all waiting together in the waiting room.
The injured boy worried about whether his injury would keep him from going to basketball camp the next week. As the minister tried to think of something encouraging to say, the boy’s friend whipped off his shoe and sock and showed him the scars of an earlier surgery on his foot, and told his friend that it hadn’t been that big a deal, and it hadn’t kept him from playing basketball and lots of other things too.
In the moment of one boy’s doubt, the other showed him his scars, and helped to reassure him. . . . . . .
We have to show each other our scars, (at least our spiritual ones), we have to tell each other our stories, share with each other the truths we have come to believe in our hearts, and why. That’s one of the powerful ways that we grow in understanding, and in wisdom, and in faith.
Not that any one of us has all the answers, but we each have something to offer. We’ve all been called by God, and there’s something inside each of us that we’ve experienced, that just might be of benefit to others, that just might strengthen their faith, that just might match something that someone else is going through, that just might lead them a little further in their journey – and help them, (and us) to be better disciples of Christ.
Thomas taught us that it’s okay to doubt, but it’s important not to turn away from Christ in the middle of that doubt, but rather, to turn toward him.
When the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, Thomas was not there. So the risen Christ came and appeared to his disciples a second time, and this time Thomas was there. And so – Christ will come to us too, in some form or other, even though we sometimes hide behind our locked doors and closed-off hearts.
That makes me wonder, though, whether Jesus would have gone searching for Thomas (a third time) if Thomas hadn’t shown up – that second time. Maybe he would have, maybe he wouldn’t. There isn’t an easy answer to that question. I think sometimes Jesus does seek us out when we really need to be found. But I also think that sometimes, we have to show up to where Jesus might find us. We have to put ourselves into position, make ourselves available, open our hearts, in order for Jesus to work, in us, in order for God to strengthen us, and to help us.
I think again about people who say they don’t need the church, or they don’t believe in God, or they have some doubts about some aspect of faith, and I wonder, whether or not they’ve ever really put that to the test. You can’t expect God to help you, or strengthen you, or guide you, or answer you, if you don’t show up and in some way, say to God, “here I am.” (A Spirit Path House Gathering or Pub Gathering is a great place to try out this theory!!!)
We, the church, won't always have satisfactory answers, and we won't always agree on the ones we believe are correct. But if we can be a place where questioners, seekers, doubters, wonderers, and wanderers - are welcome and free to speak, and free to join the debate that ultimately brings us closer to God and closer to truth, … then perhaps the church can again be a place of hope and great faith.
So bring your doubts, your questions, your humanity, and bring others too – bring others who don’t yet realize that, not only are they allowed to bring their questions, but they’re actually encouraged to do so. We promise we won’t say that they’re from the devil. We’ll say that they’re children of God, and that they’re welcome in our midst. That’s how we will continue to build our church, and that’s how we will continue to build our faith. Let’s commit today, to making it so.