If you attend a church and it happens to use a set pattern of readings from Scripture, you more than likely would have heard the story of Thomas, the Doubter. The Second Sunday of Easter is his day each year when the clergy encourages us to put our doubts aside and simply have faith.
The attribute of doubt gets a pretty bad rap these days – our sports teams call for true believers, our political candidates seek the unwavering followers, and our religious leaders call to us to get rid of all doubt and simply have faith. Years ago when it was revealed that Mother Teresa had expressed doubt in God, the media treated it like a small scandal. Of all people, Mother Teresa would never be expected to have doubts about God. Yet she did.
I think anyone who’s read the Bible honestly is going to walk away with some doubts. It alleges some pretty incredible things, after all. The Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) are particularly hairy. How are we supposed to read that thing anyhow? Literally, and we end up advocating a pretty narrow view of life (are we sure we want to approve of genocide?). Figuratively gives the reader some maneuvering room, but what do the figures represent? Or are we reading the chronicle of a people dealing with a Higher Power and how they progressively comprehended it?
There’s been a lot of ink shed on how and when each book of the Bible was written. I personally tend to the higher critical method in Old Testament studies, but no matter. Eventually we must deal with the words themselves and what they convey to us in the twenty-first century. The fact that the prophets are constantly correcting the temple cult worship of the day should shed a little light on how we’re to look at things.
There are people who believe in only reading the words of Jesus (the words “in red”). But have you ever really read them? They’re not particularly easy to comprehend, let alone practice. My Amish friends believe in living by Matthew chapters 5-7. I do as well, but with a completely different take on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Instead being the new lawgiver and telling his followers to live by his new standards, I believe Jesus is driving home to his hearers the impossibility of living by rules. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to tell his followers to stop judging other people and turn their attention to mercy instead of obedience. Yep, I just hit a nerve with some of you, didn’t I?
And then there are the miracles. There’re a lot of them in the Bible, and especially associated with Jesus. And that’s where my friend, Thomas, comes in. Thomas has the attitude of a modern man set in first century Jerusalem. He wasn’t going to believe anything he couldn’t prove. So when he heard the stories of Jesus being alive – raised from the dead – well, he just wasn’t going to fall for that without checking it out himself. “Unless I can see and touch for myself, I’ll not believe.” Thomas is us; Thomas is me.
Jesus says see, touch, and believe. I think He still comes to us, to me, with those words. There’s a lot about organized religion to put people off – lots of obedience, little mercy. The hypocrisy in the ranks of religious professionals runs deep. If the credibility of the gospel rested on the lifestyles of many of its most ardent adherents, well, it would be in for a tough go of it.
I “see” because I believe. It’s just that simple. And part of my belief comes with a heavy dose of skepticism these days. I’ve become convinced that doubt is not, nor has ever been the enemy of faith. Fear is. Fear is paralyzing, draining life away from everything it touches. On the other hand, doubt can be quite healthy and is certainly normal. The only danger in doubt is that we fail to resolve it. That doesn’t mean I have to have all my questions answered. Just enough will do.