JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN! …
Do you believe that? Do you really believe? Have you ever doubted? Does that doubt call your belief into question? Doubting Thomas has done great harm to the Church and its understanding of faith and doubt. I’m not saying that the Apostle Thomas harmed the Church, but the notion that he doubted. Let me explain.
Before we got a GPS, when Penny and I would go on a road trip, we had a specific division of labor. I was the pilot, and she was the navigator. She had the maps, and she told me where to go, and I followed her directions. Now I am ashamed to admit that from time to time, I doubted her. Typically when I had no idea where I was or where we were going; the moments when I most needed to rely on Penny’s direction, it was then that I was most likely to doubt. Now my doubt did not mean that I had no faith in her directions – she had often directed me faithfully in the past – but there was that one time when she said “go left” when we needed to go right and got hopelessly lost. I was 99% certain she knew where we were going, but there was that 1% of doubt gnawing at me.
This is what doubt is all about. Doubt is not the absence of belief, it is belief confronted. It is a conflict between the belief that exists and the questioning that comes from our uncertainty of ourselves. We question ourselves, and in that crisis of the self, we doubt that which we believe. But notice something. Doubt is not possible without belief. If you do not believe, you have nothing to doubt. Human doubt of Jesus as Christ, the Son of God, who died for your sins and was raised, is actually a testament to the existence of faith. If you did not have faith, it would not be there for you to doubt it. But this is not what was happening with Thomas.
Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Thomas does not doubt here. If he did, he would have said something like, I wish I could have seen in His hands the mark of the nails, and could have placed my finger into those makes, and could have placed my hand into His side, then I could know for certain. Do you see the difference? Thomas does not doubt his belief; he does not believe. But it isn’t simply that he doesn’t believe. If so, he would have said something like, I’m sorry, you may believe that you saw the Lord, and saw the nail marks in His hands and the spear wound in His side, but I just don’t believe it happened. This is not what happened. Thomas does not doubt his belief; he does not profess a lack of belief; Thomas rejects belief. He said, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” He doesn’t just not believe, he openly opposes belief. When Jesus confronts Thomas eight days later, He says, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” The word here literally means against belief. Our Lord said to Thomas, Do not believe against my resurrection; do not believe against my messianic office, do not believe against my divinity, but believe in me.
When we think of belief, we tend to think of it on a sliding scale. I believe more or less. That places the responsibility for my belief on me; for the strength of my belief on me; for my doubt on me. But this is not what faith is. Faith is a binary state. Either we have it or we don’t. If we do not have faith, it is not that we simply lack faith; rather we stand opposed to faith in Jesus Christ. We either believe in Him, or we believe against Him. There is no middle ground. Our fallen state – the state in which we were born – stands in opposition to God. We in our sinful nature don’t just lack faith, we exist in anti-faith; we believe against God. When faith in Jesus Christ is present, this does not mean that doubt ceases; it means that doubt can begin. You see we exist at one and the same time as justified and sinner; we exist at one and the same time believing in and believing against Jesus. This is the struggle which faces us every day until we die. Through our belief in Jesus as Christ, the Son of God, we are crucified with Him, and we are raised with Him. And yet the sinful flesh still clings; the sinful flesh that believes against Him grapples and strains against our belief in Jesus. That is because our belief in Him is not native to us. Our faith is not ours it is His; it is God’s and He gives it to us as a gift. Faith that is a result of our experience – of what we see – is not a saving faith. It is the faith that comes not by sight that saves. Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed (or gifted) are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The faith that comes not by sight, but by the grace of God alone is the faith that saves us. It is this faith that exists in opposition to our sinful selves; that wars with our sinful selves that saves us. It is out of that conflict that we experience doubt. We doubt ourselves and we doubt God, back and forth until we are reunited with Him and at last see. So hear the Good News and believe; in spite of your doubt believe; in the light of your doubt believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, for by believing you have life in His name.
HE IS RISEN! … Amen.