The story of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Thomas showed up in the Moravian text readings a few Sundays ago. You may know the story: Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them, so he doubted the veracity of the story, saying “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus obliges Thomas when he appears to the disciples again, and Thomas believes.
Many of the sermons I’ve heard on this passage are quick to point out that it’s okay to doubt, that we’re too hard on Thomas, that we should be asking questions and “testing everything.” But I am struck by the fact that Jesus tells Thomas the exact opposite. He offers his scars for Thomas to see and touch, but also says to him, “Stop doubting and believe.”
It seems to me that the exaltation of doubt is a direct result of our Enlightenment heritage, so no wonder we feel like Thomas gets a bad rap. Doesn’t everyone feel that way about their faith? Who is ever really certain about these things, and isn’t it arrogant to make such claims?
We are comfortable with our doubt, because it doesn’t make any demands on us. We can “wait and see” indefinitely. We can hang back instead of engage because we aren’t compelled by any convictions. We can acknowledge that these things are certainly theoretically possible while never actually exploring any of it.
And yet, Jesus’ word to Thomas (and us) is, “Stop doubting and believe.”
Why? Because this kind of doubt is ultimately an elevation of human intellect above God’s promise. And because doubt doesn’t help us join with God in the renewal of all things. Because faith is how things get done in the kingdom. Faith is the channel through which Jesus power can work.
Some may find doubt a necessary phase to go through as they explore the implications of Christian faith, but it doesn’t accomplish anything in the kingdom. That’s why, like Thomas, if we find ourselves doubting, we need to move through our doubt into faith, heeding Jesus’ command. Stop doubting and believe.
Thomas believed because he saw, but Jesus promised a blessing on “those who have not seen and yet have believed.” As Peter wrote later, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
For Thomas, seeing was believing. For us, I suppose we could say that believing is seeing. So let’s stop doubting and believe! There’s work to be done, and we need faith if we’re going to see God’s kingdom come in our families, neighborhoods, and cities.
What are your thoughts? Do you resonate with the idea that doubt holds us back from effectiveness in God’s kingdom?