Do we even know what to do with doubt? Do we have the capacity to understand its intricacies?
There’s this guy that gets a bad rap in the Bible, I think. He walked with Jesus, ate with him, probably got rained on with him. Yet, when he gets talked about in church, we always throw this title on him: The Doubter. Doubting Thomas. We even call people who are wishy-washy the same thing.
Thomas wasn’t present the first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples. When they told him about the visit, he said, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” (NLT) Yeah, not only is that gross, it became the thing that he became known for. I bet if he knew that was going to happen, he would have chosen different words.
Then Jesus shows up. In John 20, the little titles which divide the chapter say this: “Jesus Appears to Thomas.” It’s interesting… this little piece of the chapter isn’t about Jesus meeting him alone. The other disciples were there, but Thomas was the reason that he shows up. I know that the headers weren’t there in the original scrolls, but I think this one bears notice. In a room full of his closest friends, Jesus shows up for Thomas.
Jesus doesn’t seem mad. He doesn’t walk in and say, “Hey, lunkhead. Are you really that dumb? What do I need to do, smack you upside the head?” Instead, he seems to meet Thomas gently, understanding his need to experience the risen Savior for himself.
I’ve heard a great description of this and I can’t quite remember who said it. Thomas is described as having a “slow heart.” It wasn’t that he was defiant. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to believe. It was that Thomas needed to make sure that he could trust what he thought he knew, and after he knew that he could, nothing could shake him. Jesus got that, I think. That’s why he showed up, made a beeline for Thomas, and let Thomas do exactly what he said he needed to.
The space that must be filled
Robert Browning said, this: “You call for faith: I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists. The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say, If faith o’ercomes doubt.”
Doubt is the space that’s left empty, questions left unanswered.
What about doubt that does bring the death of faith? Sure we’re not all perfect. Sometimes doubt becomes a wedge that’s driven between us and our Lord, things we can’t resolve and a God we just can’t hear speak. Circumstance that’s just too much to resolve if there’s a loving God and he’s on our side. What’s the difference between doubt which is filled with faith, and doubt which severs us from our creator?
Fear is the difference. The times I’ve been close to losing faith, that’s been the thing that’s creeping up on me like a wolf. Fear that I can’t do it, that God has left me. Fear that He was never real to start with.
I heard someone say: “Faith isn’t the opposite of doubt, it’s the opposite of sight.” I think that’s true. Doubt is interwoven with the faith story just like the burning bushes which light our way.
“I’m not questioning you, I’ve just got questions. Don’t leave me here.”
“Maybe you’ve cuffed your ears. My child, don’t be childish.”