Beyond the shadow of Doubt
Journey to a personal faith
An old back-woodsman ventured out of his little corner of the world and went to his first circus. He stood before the camel's cage, gaping at the strange beast inside. He wondered in silence as he examined every detail of the camel's crooked legs, cloven hoofs, sleepy eyes and humped back. He continued to gaze for a long time. Finally, he turned away with an air of disgust and muttered, "They can't fool me. There ain't no such animal!"
We all have our moments of extreme skepticism-times when it seems that we are being asked to believe the unbelievable. Moreover, in the realm of faith we find ourselves being pushed beyond the limits of ordinary logic. And the measure of our faith is tested, ultimately, by our response to the Biblical call for trust in the resurrection power of God.
Resurrection is not an everyday occurrence. It is not even a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. It agrees with no known law of nature. We cannot comprehend it within the limits of our finite intellect. The Risen Christ cannot be proved by scientific experiment or mathematical formula. The Easter message will always remain a matter of faith.
We should remember, therefore, that faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.
We are, by nature, rational creatures. God has given us the ability to think, to evaluate, to consider the evidence, and to come to a logical conclusion. In this sense, Thomas' doubts were the normal consequences of what it means to be human.
Living beyond the shadow of doubt in our to a personal faith requires us to:
Be open to God no matter what we face
In his book Original Self: Living with Paradox and Originality, Thomas Moore quotes Emily Dickinson:
The Soul should always stand ajar
That if Heaven inquire
He will not be obliged to wait
And then Moore adds:
"Life needs a point of entry, a crack in our defenses.... The door ajar is yet another image for... caring for the soul. It is not a project, as is the job of personal growth or self-improvement. It is not so much something we do as it is something done to us. Our role is to stand out of the way or allow a point of entry. It is helpful to learn how to defend oneself so as not to be undone entirely by the... (many) possibilities of love and life, but we don't need to seal ourselves off altogether. We need only to keep the door unlocked or allow a window to remain undone a crack." (pgs. 26-27)
It is not easy to stand out of the way or allow a point of entry for God's spirit when we have experienced some great hurt in our lives. Very often after a tragedy or a trauma we are inclined to say, "I'm never going to let myself get hurt like that again." And we lock everyone and everything out that might possibly hurt us.
We have all known people who have stopped seeing friends, stopped going to church, refused to date or accept any kind of social invitation. Most of us have done this at one time or another in our lives. We think that if we lock all of the doors we can keep ourselves absolutely safe.
It was like that for those who were closest to Jesus when he died. The disciples were behind locked doors in the upper room after Jesus was crucified. They had good reason to try to shut out the world. They were devastated by Jesus' death and they feared for their own lives. Those who had killed Jesus could easily come for them next.
It was probably foolish for them to be together at all, especially in Jerusalem. But they needed to be together, and how could they leave Jerusalem without Jesus? So they came together, numbed by the shock of Jesus' horrible death, filled with guilt perhaps, because they had all fled when he needed them most. Some of them had denied him. They huddled together, barely able to speak, unable to eat, their hearts breaking, wondering how they could possibly go on. They could not imagine a life without Jesus.
The doors were locked, their hearts and minds were closed, numb with grief.
In her wonderful book My Grandfather's Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen tells about a woman who was dating a man whose first wife had suffered a long and painful death from cancer. He and his children had been hurt deeply and were now slowly recovering and learning to love (live) again:
"Less than a year into their courtship, when Celia found a lump in her breast, she had not thought much about it. She had found lumps in her breasts before. She had gone to the doctor alone and was alone when she received the devastating news: This lump was not like the others. This lump was malignant.
"Almost her first thought was of Richard and his children. They had been profoundly wounded by cancer only a few years before. They were still healing from it. How could she bring this terrible thing into their lives again? She had called Richard immediately and, without telling him why, had simply broken off their relationship. For several weeks she refused his phone calls and returned his letters. But Richard had not given up and had continued to pursue her, begging her to see him.
"Finally she relented and arranged to meet with him and tell him good-bye, thinking perhaps this would convince him to stop pursuing her and go on with his life. Richard appeared to be under great strain. Gently he asked her why she had broken with him. Almost in tears, she told him that she had found a lump in her breast and that it was malignant. She had undergone surgery a few weeks before and would begin chemotherapy the following week. 'You and the children have lived through this once already,' she told him. 'I won't put you through it again.'
"He looked at her, open-mouthed. 'You have cancer?' he asked. Dumbly she nodded, the tears beginning to run down her cheeks. 'Oh, Celia,' he said, beginning to laugh with relief. 'We can do cancer... we know how to do cancer. I thought you didn't love me.' " (Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings, River Head Books, 2000, pgs. 203-204)
The disciples were huddled together behind locked doors. Suddenly Jesus stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." You would think this would have been enough to break through all of their barriers of grief. But not all of them were there that first time Jesus appeared. Thomas was missing. Like so many of us, he had a difficult time bringing himself back into community. It was easier to be alone in his grief, and when the others told him what had happened he expressed grave doubt; he said he would have to see and touch for himself.
A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. And although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
I invite you today to always leave the doors and windows of your lives open, just a crack, so that, as Emily Dickinson says, "That if Heaven inquire, he will not be obliged to wait."
The Danger of Group Faith
When the other Apostles told Thomas they had seen the Risen Lord, he questioned their reliability. He considered the source of the evidence and found it wanting. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied him. The rest scattered when Jesus was sentenced to death. The Bible says that only John was at the foot of the Cross when Jesus died. And here they were telling Thomas that Jesus was alive! How could he trust anything they told him? Like Thomas, our natural skepticism is the normal consequence of being human. If we did not sometimes doubt, we would be hopelessly naive.
In the play A Raisin In The Sun there is a young man whose father died and left the family a small legacy of several thousand dollars in the form of an insurance policy. The young man's mother had a lifelong dream of buying a little bungalow for the family-a nice place they could call their own. The insurance money represented the realization of her modest dream. The son, however, had a dream of his own. He wanted to take the money and break into business. He had never had a decent job-not even an opportunity for one. A friend had agreed to let him in on a "deal"-a deal that couldn't miss. The son pleaded with his mother to give him the one chance he never had.
The mother gave in, reluctantly. Her son's happiness was more important to her than her own. She gave him the money. He gave it to his friend-and his friend promptly skipped town.
That story illustrates that to survive in our conniving world, we need to exercise a healthy skepticism which says, "I'm from Missouri. Show me."
We need a personal faith
The same is true in our religious experience. The point of today's text is not to condemn the healthy skepticism that is built into our very nature, but to teach us that to discover the truth about life's meaning and purpose, we must venture beyond the limits of finite intellect. Faith demands more than an intellectual commitment. Faith demands a commitment to a Person.
Adam and Eve, the Bible tells us, had two children, both sons: Cain and Abel. It also tells us that Cain had a wife. A skeptical man interrupted Evangelist Billy Sunday while preaching a sermon on the story of Cain and Abel. The man asked, "If Adam and Eve had only sons, then where did Cain's wife come from?" Billy Sunday replied, "I honor every seeker after truth. But I have a word of warning for this questioner. Don't risk losing salvation by too much inquiring after other men's wives."
It was a humorous way of saying that the Biblical writers were not concerned with offering logical explanations of events. Their primary concern was to impart religious truth. They do not offer a logical explanation of "how" God created the things that exist, but only the affirmation that God is the Source of all life. Don't risk losing salvation, therefore, by too much inquiring after the "How?" and too little searching for the "Who?"
This is what it finally comes down to for Thomas in today's lesson. When Jesus confronts him, face-to-face, Thomas does not inquire after the logic of Resurrection. He doesn't demand to know "how" Jesus rose from the dead. The only thing of importance to Thomas now is the reality of Christ's presence in his life. And the only words that come from his lips are, "My Lord and My God!" (John 20:28). The point of the whole story, as far as John is concerned, is summed up by Jesus' reply, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20:29).
Earlier, Jesus had said to His disciples, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13) Because Christ has risen, the Spirit of Truth has come into the world to guide us into all the truth.
Because Christ has risen, the Spirit of Truth has come to empower us to take the leap of faith.
Because Christ has risen, the Spirit of Truth has come to make it possible for us who have not seen to believe.
Because Christ has risen, the experience of his presence can be as real for us as it was for Thomas.
Because Christ has risen, we can acknowledge, in faith, the supremacy of love-in our life with God and in our life with one another.
Blessed are those who discover the true meaning and purpose of life in the experience of love.
Christ calls us to discipleship in a "Show me!" world. All around us, even in our own families, there are people who are living on the edge of despair, people who need and want to be "shown" how to transform aimless existence into purposeful, meaningful life. And we who love Christ can give nothing less than our full faith response to their cries of "Show me!" We can do nothing less than "show" them the real presence of Christ within us. We can do nothing less than embrace them with open arms, give our lives to them in loving service, show them the true meaning and purpose of life through their experience of our love. That is what it means to join Thomas in saying, "My Lord and my God!"