Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Doubt It!

Did you ever doubt? You are not alone!

“And when they saw [the newly-risen Jesus], they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Not long after Jesus’ resurrection, he began to make appearances to his followers. He appeared to his *closest friends*—“but some doubted”. These are folks who walked with our Lord for three years in a row—personally. They *knew* him. But when they saw him raised from the dead, “some doubted.” Doubt is not new, and it is not foreign even to those closest to Christ.

Today (in the Western church—next Sunday in the Orthodox Churches) some astonishing number of Christians reading this article (40%? 60%?) will have attended church to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, not to return today. “Low Sunday” as this day is commonly called, refers to the dramatic drop in attendance from the Paschal services. But its liturgical name is much more encouraging and helpful. The first Sunday after Pascha is Thomas Sunday, the day on which we remember the Apostle best known as Doubting Thomas.

According to John’s Gospel, eleven of the disciples were gathered together in a locked room when Jesus first appeared to them following his Resurrection. Thomas, the only one who was not there, would not believe the eye-witness report of the eleven—that Jesus was truly raised from the dead, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side” (John 20:25). Jesus’ response to this unbelief was a combination of patience and love. He didn’t upbraid him for his faithlessness or his absence the previous week (though he does call those blessed who have *not* seen and yet believe); rather Jesus offered Thomas the most convincing proof: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas’ response is perhaps the strongest confession of Jesus Christ in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!”

Since we are made for perfect communion with God, since we are all (men and women alike) born to be Sons of God and therefore inheritors of God’s Kingdom, of course God is pleased with those who have faith in Him. This is part and parcel to our existence. These faithful shall be saved, according to the Scriptures, insofar as their faith is rooted in Love and demonstrated by concrete actions of compassion and mercy even, and perhaps especially, to their worst enemies.

But what about the faithless? What about those who doubt? Well, God can work with them too—he did with Thomas! But there are at least two kinds of doubters: Engagers and agnostics. From a Christian perspective, it is the agnostics who actually suffer spiritually the most (even if they are unaware of it)—since they appear most sincerely unable, unwilling, or uninterested to pursue God. It seems that they really couldn’t care less. At least externally, they are not moved by the mercy and love of God. Jesus addressed a whole church suffering from this spiritual malady in the Apocalypse: ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Rev. 3:15).

Engagers are different. Engagers are those who are troubled by their own doubts or unbelief, whatever their root, and are motivated to resolve the tension. This group, I’d submit, even includes staunch atheists. God can work with these! Admittedly or not, able or not, they want to see God, but for whatever reason right now, they cannot. Even the most ardent atheist is looking for God—its just that so far, he’s only had convincing proof that the gods already presented to him aren’t the True God. And I’d be willing to go so far as to say in many cases, I’d sympathize with their doubts! These haven’t—so to speak—found the real nail printed hands yet, or felt the holy hole in the pierced side. Doubt or faithlessness in the case of the ‘engager’ is actually an active path towards belief. And we might even say that having gone through the difficult darkness of doubt by engaging it, the doubter’s faith is made much stronger.

Doubt is not something to be encouraged or content with, from a Christian perspective—but it is clear even from the very day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that “some doubted.” Rather, when doubts come, we should all the more devote ourselves to the pursuit of the Truth, who stands and the door and knocks, and says,” if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Doubters, don’t despair, engage! As the father of the sick child asked Christ, “I believe; help my unbelief!” and as Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not be faithless, but believing!”

Fr John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. To read more visit Fr John can be reached at or at 843.881.5010.

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