Doubters can get a bad name in many church communities, but you are in good company here. The sign of deep faith, in fact, is in the questions, not the answers, in resilience, not rigidity… in the courage to face the worst that life can deal us and to hang in there. But tradition has not been kind to Thomas—he is labeled “doubting” because of the questions he raises in the gospel last Sunday. Yet the only difference between him and the other disciples, as far as I can tell, is that he voices the fears that I’m sure they all had.
Interestingly enough, the name Thomas means “twin,” but try as we might, we’ll find no record of his sibling anywhere in the scripture. So he is us, I believe, and his questions are those that many of us voice at one time or another: “Hello, my name is David, and I’m a doubter.” There is room in this house for everyone.
We hear what people believe and don’t believe mostly when things are tough—at someone’s bedside, when he is in a lot of pain, when the diagnosis is grim. The doctors might leave the room for a minute, and your friend grabs you by the hand and says, “I’m scared, and I’m not sure what I believe anymore.” I’ve learned to just sit there, mostly silent, and hold on.
Or a person opens up when someone she loves has died. Platitudes usually land with a thud—folks don’t want to be jollied up when there’s good reason to be sad. Rather, most of us want someone with the guts to listen and not run away when we say, “I don’t believe. I’ve got my doubts.”
Seemingly accepted customs of racism and misogyny challenge our belief in humanity, as do systems of education and access that privilege a few over the many. Settling for the bizarre statement that “the poor will always be with us” is enough to shake our faith in religion, as does any accommodation we make for violence. But Jesus’ radical inclusion breaks through all of that—Love is more powerful than any darkness we can conjure. Even our despair won’t chase love away. A friend told me years ago, “The gospel isn’t about whether we believe in God or not. The good news is that God believes in us.” “You may doubt me, but I don’t doubt you,” Jesus’ actions say to Thomas. And in that, God has given us what we need to transform the world.
How many of us have thought like Nancy Mairs, who writes, “In church I often felt like a hypocrite, surrounded by people who knew something I didn’t, as I pretended to know it, too. It never occurred to me that you might go to church not because you believed in God, but precisely because you didn’t—that in going through the motions, I’m not performing empty gestures… (Rather), I am preparing a space into which belief can flood in.”
It turns out that God comes to the places where we feel most empty and bereft. Doubt isn’t something to deny or hide from: doubt is the fertile soil of belief. Alfred Lord Tennyson writes, “There is more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds.” Amen. We meet the living God not where we are most strong and on top of our game, but in the courage to confess our struggles and how far we still have to travel to get where we are called to be. According to the story of Thomas, our twin, we meet Jesus in the wounds.
Theologian Walter Wink says, “The resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared. It is not a datum of history, but divine transformative power overcoming the power of death. Resurrection is not a contract for a time-share apartment in heaven. It is the spirit of Jesus present in people” now, as they continue his struggle against injustice and mean-spiritedness in all its forms.
Whether we doubt or not doesn’t seem to matter at all. What matters is the depth of our commitment to each other, our willingness to serve, our capacity to love.