Do Not Doubt but Believe
Heavenly Father, We come before you with many questions, fears and doubts on our minds. Please give us your counsel and wisdom to seek answers, to hear your words and to confirm our belief in you.
The gospel today is often referred to as “doubting Thomas”. I am not sure that Thomas truly deserves that title. It is Easter Sunday evening, the disciples, except for Thomas, are gathered together in an upper room with the doors locked. They are fearful. Their leader has been killed. They are worried that they may be next. Suddenly Jesus comes through the locked door and stands among them. Is this a ghost? Are they just imagining seeing him? Does everyone else see him too? Then Jesus says “Peace be with you.” It is that familiar voice that they had longed to hear one more time! Frightened but drawn at the same time, they move closer. Jesus invites them to see and touch the wounds in his hands and in his side. This vision that they touch is real – they feel his flesh and bones. They know the pain of those scars. (Luke tells us he even has a bite to eat with them.) This truly is Jesus returned to them!! They are overjoyed, relieved and they worship him. Jesus again says “Peace be with you”. He then recommissions them to go out in the name of his Father. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit onto them. “Receive the Holy Spirit” as they are empowered for their mission of spreading the gospel and baptizing all nations.
When Thomas returns, they tell him they have seen Jesus:
“Thomas, it was really him. We saw the holes in his hands and his side.”
“He stood right where you were standing and blessed us with the Holy Spirit.”
“He even had some bread and fish with us.”
“We could touch him and hold him and feel his flesh and bones.”
“We have seen the Lord.”
These disciples had experienced the resurrected Jesus with their senses: seen him, touched him, heard his familiar voice and even eaten with him. Thomas had none of this experience. It is no wonder he did not believe them. The resurrection of a human being is so far out of his realm of thinking or experience that it is unbelievable. I am not sure the others would have believed it if they had not been there.
Thomas is simply asking to experience what the others already had. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Is this a lack of faith? Thomas wants to believe that Jesus is with them again, that all the things he told them are true, that there is another kingdom to come but he needs to see that his teacher has risen and come to see him. If he didn’t care, he would have turned away saying “Whatever! It doesn’t matter to me now. I have other things to do.” Instead he is asking to have his doubts shaken and turned to belief.
What does Jesus do? Does he ignore Thomas? Does he berate him for not believing? No. Instead, he slips through the locked doors again the following Sunday evening. He speaks directly to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” As Thomas does this, Jesus invites him to “not doubt but believe. “At this, Thomas exclaims “My Lord and my God.” He now has seen the evidence he needs to fully and completely believe that Jesus is the Son of God raised up again by the Father.
Jesus then says “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus is talking about us. Through Thomas, Jesus gives a special blessing to those of us who believe based on the gospels and the evidence of Jesus in our own lives and yet have not seen.
In today’s epistle, Peter also reassures us of Jesus’ blessing. “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Is it all right for us to doubt? Yes. Doubts will push us to seek answers through prayer, Bible study, discussion, journals or meditation. When Thomas doubted, Jesus did not ignore him, but returned for him. The faith of Thomas and all the disciples grew. When you doubt and pursue answers to your questions, Jesus will return through a conversation with a friend, a quiet moment in your day or a revelation in prayer and lead you to an enriched faith. Your doubts may never go away completely but as long as you are searching for the truth, as Thomas was, God will bless our efforts.
Many of us have had doubts about God in this pandemic. As many of you know, my mom, who is 93, lives in a nursing home in Newtown. My dad, who will be 96 in July, lives in the same facility in assisted living. Since I retired, I have devoted a good deal of time to helping them and visiting them. My sisters and I were visiting several times a week so they had company every day. But then COVID happened. We have not been able to visit in six weeks nor are my parents even allowed to see each other. My mother, who has dementia, did not understand why my dad and “her girls” were not visiting. Then a month ago, my dad had a fall during the night. He was sent to the hospital for possible head and rib injuries. He was not seriously hurt, so he was sent home. The next morning, an aide delivering breakfast, found him slumped over in his wheelchair, dizzy, pale and exhausted. Thinking it was a after effect of the fall, he was rushed back to the hospital.
There he was tested for COVID 19. We were shocked by the call telling us that he tested positive. Fears and doubts overcame us. I was home, unable to be there to hug, help or comfort Dad as I always had done and wanted to now. The news reports led us to believe that an elderly man would suffer and likely not survive. I was terrified that he would be alone through all this and I would not have a chance to say a final goodbye. For three days, I cried and argued with God. Why my Dad? Why now? Why this virus? Where are you, Lord? As I prayed and sought God, a reassurance slowly came. God would be with my dad even when I could not be. He and my mother would be in God’s care no matter what happened. With my faith deepened, I had to let go of everything. I had to leave it all in God’s hands and just sit and wait. My dad is now recovering, very slowly. My mother’s roommate has turned out to be a guardian angel to watch over her. God was there, I just had my doubts but now I know.
I do not think God gave us this virus. I do not think God gave the virus to my father, but I do believe God knows what is going on. I keep thinking of the song “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. He will bring about good even in the midst of this difficult and painful time as we doubt and we pray and we hope. As Joseph told his brothers, “you plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good.”
During this time when we are home with doubts, fears and worries, we need to include quiet apart time in our day. Take time to focus on what is good in your life right now…the spring weather, the technology that keeps us in touch, the caring people in our world. But also tell God your fears, doubts and worries. Argue with Him. Complain to him. Be angry if you are. Tell him how upsetting things are. He can handle it. Read some of the psalms to hear the laments and frustration directed to God. Above all, keep talking to God, keep seeking him, trust him. He will listen, he will bless your questions and doubts, he will respond in his time, in his way with answers or reassurances. He will extend the same invitation to us as he did to Thomas: “Do not doubt but believe.” Amen.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, in this time of pandemic, we are fearful, doubtful and worried. Be with us, console us, guide us and protect us. Reassure our doubts. Help us to remember that you are in charge. Let us remember in our hearts your words: “Peace be with you” as we live through this time. Amen.