What Do You Doubt?
If we don’t doubt what we hear, if we don’t ask questions and seek answers, do we believe anything?
Adapted from a sermon at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.
Doubt is a powerful thing. In our culture where answers to anything can be discovered with a Google search, we doubt things we can’t answer, define, or discover.
We live in a world where saying, “I don’t know” is a weakness. We’re taught to always portray confidence and strength of conviction, even when we’re not sure or unclear. This is super unhealthy.
What do you doubt?
I asked this question earlier this week on my social media channels. Here are some of the responses:
- I doubt anti-science thinking.
- The Orlando Magic.
- When I meet someone who is fully certain in what they believe they know, especially in fields of absolute black and white thinking, I tend to criticize and doubt.
- The intentions of the people around me. … I watch the movements in the world and suffering often looks like an opportunity for grabbing attention rather than charity.
- The Atlanta Braves bullpen.
- I doubt myself.
- I doubt life after death will be better than life on earth.
- Reality, on a daily basis.
- Theon makes it out of Winterfell alive.
What do you doubt?
I doubt things I cannot control. When something is beyond my grasp I have difficulty believing it will happen or play out as intended. Unfortunately, much of the world is beyond my control.
Doubt carries a negative connotation. Our culture values certainty and conviction and doubt flies in the face of both. All the Unsplash images tagged “doubt” are of sad looking people, like the one above. However, doubt is a natural, human emotion deserving our attention.
Sure, some doubts can be detrimental to our psyche and, when left unchecked, doubt can breed into distrust and apathy toward the world and ourselves. But confronting doubt leads to growth and strengthened beliefs.
There is a lot to doubt about faith. Easter was last week which is a celebration of Jesus defeating death and rising from the grave. Just typing that sentence brings about that flag in my brain that says, “wait a minute… rise from the dead?” Yet this moment is the foundational basis of belief in Jesus as God’s son.
That’s a lot to take in.
A few days after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to a few of his disciples. He reassured them and told them to continue following his mission, sharing the love of God with all people. These disciples were energized and returned to the others to share what they witnessed.
Thomas was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples. He spent three-years following Jesus around, listening to him preach and share his vision of God’s Kingdom. Yet, Thomas doubted. For his doubt, Thomas received a bad rap throughout history.
He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared. He listened to his friends share their story and replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” (John 20:25b CEB)
The Gospel of John doesn’t capture how the other disciples reacted to Thomas. I imagine he earned stares and side eyes. The “Doubting Thomas” moniker probably developed while the other disciples ragged on and belittled him for asking a question about faith.
I imagine this is the reaction Thomas received because it’s the reaction many people experience when asking questions of faith.
In religious circles, people who doubt their faith are often stigmatized. We consider people with doubt to be somehow against God or less than assured of their belief. I’ve never understood this.
Doubt is fundamental for faith to grow.
If we don’t doubt what we hear, if we don’t ask questions and seek answers, do we believe anything? Faith is not just reciting things we hear; faith is believing things we cannot see or explain.
“Doubting Thomas” has become a badge of dishonor. However, I say we reclaim Thomas and celebrate him as the first person to honestly address the doubts and questions of their faith.
Eight days after Thomas publicly questioned Jesus’s resurrection, the Gospel of John picks up the story (John 20:26–29 CEB):
26After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
Jesus returns to the disciples and addresses Thomas directly. He responds to Thomas’s questions and says, “No more disbelief. Believe!” Thomas’s doubts are erased and he addresses Jesus as God.
Chances are Jesus will not physically visit each of us and address our individual doubts. If he did, we’d have no room in life for faith. Faith, as Jesus described it to Thomas, is believing in things we cannot see. Once we see, once something is proven to be true, we move from faith into fact.
God didn’t wire us to have factual knowledge of God, he wired us to believe in him. He gave us a choice to believe or not. As such, we should honor our doubts and not be afraid to voice our questions of faith. Exploring and seeking answers help move us toward belief and can ultimately strengthen our faith.
We cannot be afraid to ask.
Saying, “I don’t know” is not a weakness. As long as we seek and explore the answers to our questions, doubt is an act of courage and strength.
I relate to Thomas. I don’t have all the answers but I value the pursuit of faith and exploration of questions. I hope you will do the same.
Embrace your questions. Don’t allow them to develop shame or stigma in your life. Seek answers. Ultimately when you explore doubt and questions of faith, faith is strengthened in the end. We can all learn from Thomas.
What do you doubt?