John 20:19-31 – Sermon – Is Doubt Okay?

John 20:19-31
Is Doubting Okay?
03-30-08

Doubt is what enables our faith to grow. Yes, you heard me correctly; doubt is what enables our faith to grow. The passage of scripture I read today tells us this. It is through doubt that we receive faith and a deeper understanding of who God is. In the beginning of the text Jesus has appeared to the disciples and they believed. They were so excited about the resurrection and Jesus showing up in person that they had to share it with others. Thomas was not in that room though and when he heard what happened he did not believe in what they were saying. He said, Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and place my finger where the nails where, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe. Thomas had little faith in what the disciples were saying and he needed more proof.

This is something we all ask for in our lives. We all are doubters at some point. But that is okay, and actually it is a good thing. Many people believe that if you doubt than you are actually a non-believer. I think people think this way because they cannot bear to think of a believer as having doubt. Yet we all have moments when we are exactly like Thomas in this scripture wanting God to prove that he exists so that they could believe.

Author and neurologist Oliver Sacks writes this about his religious experience. He says there had been some religious feeling, of a childish sort, in the years before the war. When my mother lit the Sabbath candles, I would feel, almost physically, the Sabbath coming in, being welcomed, descending like a soft mantle over the earth. But when I was suddenly abandoned by my parents (as I saw it), my trust in them, my love for them, was rudely shaken, and with this my belief in God, too. He continues to write about an experiment he came up with to prove God’s existence: I planted two rows of radishes side by side in the vegetable garden, and asked God to bless one or curse one, whichever he wished, so that I might see a clear difference between them. The two rows of radishes came up identical, and this was proof for me that no God existed. But, I longed now even more for something to believe in.

We do things like this all the time. We decide that the best way to see if God exists is to test God ourselves. We ask God, if you really exist than make all the lights green on our way to work. God if you exist please let me get a return on my taxes this year. God if you exist than let my father live through this cancer. God if you exist than make my wife forgive me. We think that if we can test God than we can believe.

Yet was Thomas actually a non-believer testing the existence of God? No, Thomas was a disciple. He followed Christ through his ministry on this earth. He heard his teachings, his parables and experienced the miracles. He knew who Christ was but still he could not believe that what the disciples had told him was true. Maybe it was because it sounded too good? Maybe he doubted their news because he too was scared for his life and afraid of persecution? Maybe Thomas was actually jealous that he missed seeing Jesus and wanted that experience himself?

Whatever the reason was, Thomas states that he would not believe until he saw the scars in his hands and places his hand in his side. Thomas wanted real, physical proof. To solve Thomas’ doubt Christ comes again to the upper room and talks directly to Thomas. He tells him, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. Thomas I am guessing was dumbfounded and was amazed to be face to face with the Risen Christ. To have seen what had happened to him earlier and know that he had died, but than to see him physically in front of him turns his doubts and his questions into an undeniable faith.

This was not the first time Thomas doubts. Thomas is just like us. He is a questioner. He uses his keen intellect. He tries to understand in practical terms what Jesus says to him. Most of us know this situation. Thomas has been eternally smacked with the “Doubting Thomas” label. Yet less remembered is Thomas’ comment back in John 14. It starts off with Jesus saying this, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thomas’ questions provoke some of the most well know phrases of Jesus. Here in this passage Thomas is making sure that he and the disciples can be in the place that Jesus promises and wants to make sure he has the directions. Thomas is practical, he is honest and intellectual. Thomas doesn’t just want to take Jesus’ word for it, he wants to process it, digest it and make sure it settles before he believes it. Thomas does not blindly accept the faith without question. He doesn’t believe to simply believe.

My grandmother always had a way with stories. As a child, my sister, cousin, and I would go camping with her. One day we were eating watermelon on a hot summer day. It was in the midst of a watermelon seed war that I noticed that she did not have toe nails on her two big toes. That look really weird to me, so being the curious six year old I was, I asked her why she didn’t have toe nails on her two big toes. She looked at me and without missing a beat or cracking a smile said, One day I was walking near the railroad tracks near our house and a train came by. My feet were a little too close to the tracks and the train just cut them off. Without a though I said, huh and spit a seed as far as I could.

It wasn’t until I was about 22 and was sitting around the family dinner table years after she pasted away that I confessed this story. My dad broke out into a hearty laugh that almost made him cry. It was between gasps for breath as he laughed that I learned she loved to tell stories like this and that none of them were true. For 16 years I took what my grandmother told me as truth and never doubted. I never even thought about it. I never really thought it could be false until my dad broke out in laughter. Than my 6 year old mind caught up to my 22 year old mind and I realized that it was all merely a story.

Questioning life every so often is not a bad thing. We should do it. When we ask pertinent and relevant questions we get answers that can deepen our faith and provide us with the tools we need move into a closer relationship with God. Former Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel writes, for much of my life I was a skeptic. In fact, I considered myself an atheist. To me, there was far too much evidence that God was merely a product of wishful thinking, of ancient mythology, or primitive superstition. How could there be a loving God if he sends people to hell just for not believing in him? How could miracles disobey the basic laws of nature? Doesn’t scientific reasoning dispel belief in the supernatural? As for Jesus, didn’t you know that he never claimed to be God? He was a revolutionary, a sage, an model Jew—but God? No, that thought never occurred to him! I could point you to plenty of university professors who said so—and certainly they could be trusted, couldn’t they? He continues to write, Let’s face it: even a hasty examination of the evidence demonstrates convincingly that Jesus had only been a human being just like you and me, although with unusual gifts of kindness and wisdom. But that’s all I had ever really given the evidence: a hasty look. I had read just enough philosophy and history to find support for my skepticism—a fact here, a scientific theory there, a pithy quote, a clever argument. Sure, I could see some gaps and inconsistencies, but I had a strong motivation to ignore them: a self-serving and immoral lifestyle that I would be compelled to abandon if I were ever to change my views and become a follower of Jesus. As far as I was concerned, the case was closed. There was enough proof for me to rest easy with the conclusion that the divinity of Jesus was nothing more than the fanciful invention of superstitious people. Or so I thought.

Lee Strobel, who wrote this years ago but after looking into this guy named Jesus for two years, became a follower and actually a minister at Willow Creek and Saddleback Community Church. Lee’s doubts and questions have been transformed by the Risen Christ. Many Christians like to think they have it all together. They like to think that their faith should always be strong and unwavering. They think that if any ounce of doubt comes into their mind than their faith isn’t strong enough. Doubt comes with life because life comes to us all. We will all have events in our lives that we make us question why things happen. God, why did my sister get cancer? Why did my dog run away from home? How can people be so evil? Yet we should not be ashamed to ask these God questions.

When Jesus was here on earth people asked him questions all the time. The Pharisees asked him, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? The rich young ruler asked, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Peter asked him questions all the time like, Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water. Everyone around Christ asked him questions and Christ would always answer. In today’s passage we receive a common theme in Christ’s way of answering. It is one of care and compassion. It is one of understanding and gentleness. When Thomas stated that he would not believe unless he saw Jesus, Jesus did not come back and ridicule him. He simply came and said, Thomas, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. When Thomas saw this, he believed and cried out, My Lord and My God. It was through Thomas’ doubt and questions that he turned them into a feeling of belief. No longer did he walk around with a void of doubt in his soul, but Christ came and filled it. Thomas experienced the power of belief.

That is possible with all of us. You too can have the assurance that Thomas has. You can have answers to the questions that you are seeking. To find them though, we need to learn to stop testing God by subjecting him to our rules. We do not have to plant two rows of radishes to test God’s existence. A light turning red on our way home should not shatter our belief in God. To find the answers you seek you need to be willing to ask the real question. You need to be able to listen for God’s answers. You need to be willing to be transformed by the power of belief. Christ might not visit you in person, but he will speak to your soul and it is in that feeling that converts our doubt into believing.

And all God’s people said, AMEN.

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