doubt & faith (Easter 2012)

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Doubting Thomas                         John 20:19-29

Thomas is given a bit of a bad rap, known for his moment of doubt rather than his life of faith.  Just days earlier, when Jesus wanted to go up to Jerusalem for the festival, the disciples tried to talk him out of it, reminding him that the chief priests and leaders wanted to kill him.  When Jesus wouldn’t be persuaded, it was Thomas who said to the others – “let’s go with him, so we can die with him.”  He was all in, fully committed.

Maybe this is why Thomas was hesitating.  It’s hard to believe when we’ve been disappointed in the past.  It’s hard to fully jump back in and commit to life and death when all you’ve seen is the dead body.

And it’s not like the others believed without seeing – Jesus appears to them and shows them his hands and side, so they are believing based on what they’ve seen and experienced.  I also think its interesting that an entire week passes.  Can you imagine the conversations?  “Thomas, we saw him, Jesus is alive!” “I’m not sure.”  “But it’s true, we all saw it.”  “Yeah, but I’m not going to be convinced till I see it for myself.”

Seeing  is  Believing…              “Prove it to me.”

David Hume, a modern philosopher who epitomizes the Enlightenment, rational worldview, argues that you should never believe in a miracle.  He believes that not only should we disregard anyone else’s testimony, we shouldn’t even believe our own experience.  Hume believes that it’s always more likely that we’ve been deluded or misunderstood things somehow than that there was an actual miracle.  So Hume is saying that even if you see, you shouldn’t believe!

We live in a skeptical culture.  Modern Enlightenment thinking has led us to believe that everything can be scientifically understood and proven – or else it’s not reliable.  We want to doubt, we don’t want to be gullible or naïve – so realistic that we are pessimistic

But this worldview of scientific certainty is crumbling fast.  I won’t get into the philosophical seachange that is postmodernity, but the false assumptions of so-called “objective science” have been exposed.  There is no objective standing point.  We all have prior commitments – in order to do any sort of work, scientists must believe in certain things that they take on faith.

We have to live by faith.  We make our choices based on what we believe to be true, more than what we could possibly know to be true.  We can’t test and verify every detail of life prior to making a decision, even if it were possible to reach that level of certainty. 

For example, consider the chairs you’re sitting in – you believe they’ll keep you off the ground.  But you don’t know.  They might be on the verge of breaking right now.  I didn’t see anyone inspect their chair thoroughly before sitting.  Your faith may or may not be justified, but it is faith. 

Allowing God to Prove Himself!

Thomas is a model for what to do with doubt – let it bring us to Jesus and let yourself be proven wrong!

Doubting is questioning, questioning leads to discovery.  We need to let doubt produce its fruit – faith!  We need to be more about seeking truth and less about holding on to our doubts.  Some hold so tightly to their doubts that they won’t surrender them, even when given good reason to believe.  They want certainty.

The Enemy of Faith AND Doubt:  CERTAINTY

Saying “I believe” does not mean, “I’m certain.”  It also doesn’t mean – I think, I hope, I wish, I want, I know, or I feel.  You can say “I believe” and still say “I’m not sure”

Certainty leaves no room for faith.  Faith is acting despite a lack of certainty.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Heb. 11:1

We may not be able to be fully certain, but faith is acting as if we are – refusing to wait until we’re 100% sure before we act.  Blessed are those who believe without having seen – for in this world we will never see fully, never see truly, and the glimpses we have will be fleeting at best.  But that’s what we have to live by – we can’t wait until God shows us everything.  We need to let our doubts and questions lead us to God, let Him reveal what He will and then choose to believe and act on that belief. 

We won’t ever know all the answers in this life.  But we can know the God who has revealed Himself to us – His character and power revealed through creation, through history, through the witnesses of the Bible, the family of God and the Holy Spirit alive in and among us, guiding us into all truth.

Believing  is  Seeing                         I Peter 1:3-9

It’s not until we make the commitment to believe that our eyes begin to be opened further.  Faith is an organ of sight!  Faith allows us to see truly.  U2 plays off the old “have to see it to believe it” idea as they speak of “a Kingdom that has to be believed to be seen.”

There is no objective standing point from which we can observe the world.  We view the world from within our assumptions, our faith commitments.  It is only from there that we can see the world and act within it.

“I believe…” – Revolutionary Words            ‘them’s fightin words!’ 

Saying “I believe” is taking a stand.  These are revolutionary words, putting a stake in the ground.   It’s an act of defiance – we will live by faith despite our doubt, or maybe because we’ve allowed doubt to propel us forward.

What do we believe?

I believe in a Father Who loves His children

I believe in an obedient Son who shows us the way and opens the door

I believe in a Spirit that binds us to the Son, so that all that is his – his inheritance, his authority, and the great love of His Father – is ours

I believe in the family of God

I believe in love

I believe in grace

I believe in the Story – that God creates, God calls, God sends, God saves, God provides, God punishes and purifies, God brings his children back home. 

I believe in Christmas – that God came and overcame, that He lived and loved, taught us, fought for us and fought us.  I believe God gave everything for us, even that which was most precious. 

I believe in Good Friday – that God took my punishment so I could have His reward.  I believe in the cross, the justice of God intersecting the love of God

I believe in Easter – the empty tomb, the power that overcomes all, the life that cannot die, the firstborn of many who will rise

I believe this world will be transformed, that the Story isn’t over, that He’ll return and all that is wrong will be made right.

Why do I believe?

Not because I’ve seen – though I have seen much

Not because I can prove it – though there is evidence to be found

Not because I never doubt – because there are dark nights, unanswered prayers and unexplainable horrors

I believe because of ‘the inexpressible and glorious joy’ – the all-too fleeting moments of shalom – where all is right with the world

I believe because of the sweet ache of love – the love I have experienced in part as I look at my own children

I believe because of the profound peace of acceptance, of being known, which I’ve experienced in over 12 years of marriage

I believe because of the all-too familiar stabbing pain of conviction that leads to repentance

It’s not because of my head, calculating and analytical.  It’s more because of my heart, which has reasons that reason cannot comprehend (Pascal).  It’s lived experience – my own and the lived faith I’ve seen in others, the lives that have been shaped by their abandonment to the certain, unfailing faithfulness of God.

Both my head and my heart are flawed.  I think and study and seek to understand God to the best I can – sometimes grasping hints as God reveals Himself to me in part, as if in a mirror darkly.  But I make mistakes, I misapprehend and misrepresent God.  And sometimes my attempts at certainty crack like dry clay pots and reveal just how brittle and fragile they are.  And the doubts rise up and swirl through my thoughts like a dark storm.  Certainty is fragile, we need a flexible and enduring faith.

And my heart, while so thoroughly convinced at times, is distressingly inconstant.  Seeking one more experience, forgetting the past all too quickly.  Distracted by other, lesser desires that leave me half-filled and hungry.  These so easily lure me away because my heart also doubts – doubts that God alone is enough, doubts that God will provide what I really want – or that what God provides might be better than what I want.

I doubt, but I believe.  I believe, but I doubt. 

One day, I’ll know.  One day, I’ll see.  One day, my head and heart will rest in the full-bodied, whole person knowing of God.  As one hymn writer puts it, “soon shall close thy earthly mission, soon shall pass thy pilgrim days, hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight and prayer to praise.”

Till then, I’ll keep believing in what I haven’t seen yet, but only glimpsed out of the corner of my eye.  And I’ll keep looking for proof, for wounds to place my fingers in.  And God is gracious enough to come within my reach every once in a while – to encourage my little faith even as He rebukes it’s weakness.  But he does so with a smile on his face, and my failure is lost in his grace.

Where Doubt Leads Us

And what about Thomas, the doubter?  His doubt served its purpose, he questioned and sought to understand and believe.  And when Jesus appeared to him, he allowed himself to be convinced, falling at his feet and clearly proclaiming his belief that Jesus was Lord and God.  And this experience with the risen Lord was not fleeting memory.  Thomas may have doubted many things the rest of his life, but he never wavered in his belief that Jesus was indeed “Lord and God.”

Once convinced, Thomas travelled the farthest of Jesus’ apostles, farther even than Paul’s longest missionary journey.  His faith sent him to the ends of the earth and to his grave.

And 14 years ago this summer, I stood on a mountaintop outside of Madras (now Chennei) on the Southeastern coast of India, more than 3000 miles from Jerusalem as the crow flies.  I ducked my head through the door of a small chapel that marks the site where tradition holds this same Thomas was pierced by spears and lost his life for the faith that he had embraced. 

Doubt has done its job when it leads us to a faith that is strong enough to die for, valuable enough to live for.  A faith that will follow Jesus through the sufferings and sacrifices of this world all the way to the grave and – as we celebrate this Easter morning – beyond!

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