“God is just an invention that humans created to deal with the harsh realities of the world.” Those were the words of my sociology professor my first semester of my sophomore year of college.
He embodied all that you would expect from a tenured scholar. He was a towering man donning elbow patches on his sport coat which was at least a decade older than me. He had had dark brown hair and a snow white beard which made him appear that a St. Bernard took on human form. Beginning with his foundational statement about the non-existence of God he would systematically and single-handedly destroy my faith over the next sixteen weeks. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10-11 AM I was confronted with the fact that I had no reason to believe in God. It was the first time in my life since I had become a Christian that I doubted.
I remember feeling insecure, vulnerable, and suddenly unsure that this whole Jesus thing was true. “How could a rational, thinking person believe that there is a god?” this PhD-trained atheistic apologist asked. I did not have an answer to his question. So, doubt crept into my heart.
Doubt is something we all have struggled with, are currently struggling with, or will struggle with. Sometimes doubt is a question left unanswered. Sometimes doubt is a persistent feeling of uncertainty. Other times, doubt is a hesitancy to act. Whatever doubt is, we all face it at one time or another in our lives. Doubt is the gap in confidence we have in our faith. Maybe that is where you are right now. Maybe you are struggling with doubt. Maybe you are uncertain about this whole Jesus thing, and unsure that there are answers to your questions. Maybe doubt has crept into your heart.
The question is not will you doubt your faith. You will. The question is not should you doubt your faith. Doubts are just a reality in our lives. Like a cough that tells you that you have a virus, doubt is a symptom of something going on that needs to be addressed. Just like you must ask the question, “how do I treat this fever?” the real question is “how do you doubt your faith?”
Unlike a virus, not all doubts are bad. If you were to go to your doctor to have your appendix removed and he tells you that the surgery starts with incision in your neck, then doubt is a good thing. That feeling of doubt that rises up in your heart is reasonable, healthy, and may actually save your life. So, we cannot assume the presence of doubts is a bad thing.
Doubts can be a catalyst to growth and confidence. But, in order to experience that, we need to address them head on. So, I want to teach you how to doubt your faith (You read that correctly).
I’ll never forget the process of learning to swim. I was much older than the other kids when I finally took the plunge. I was always afraid of the water. Yet, my aunt was determined to teach me to swim. And, if not swim, she at least wanted me to know how to survive in the water. I remember standing on the edge of the pool frightened to jump in. I remember the first time my aunt challenged me to go to the end of the pool where my feet could no longer touch the bottom. I remember that terrifying moment when I had to sit motionless so that my body would float on top of the water. Everything in me doubted that I could float, let alone swim. Yet, with each step I learned from my aunt, the gap was closed between doubting I could swim to becoming a confident swimmer.
Many of us struggle with doubt the same way I struggled to learn to swim. We stand at the end of our doubt scared that we will not stay afloat if we wade too deep into the waters of our questions and uncertainties. But, just like my aunt taught me to swim by encouraging me to go beyond what I thought I could handle, I want to teach you how to wade into the waters of doubt in your faith.
That probably sounds extremely strange because the message most of us have received from church-people is that you are not allowed to doubt your faith. If you do, you are a bad Christian. Many churches in America create an environment where we are supposed ignore our questions, hide our feelings of uncertainty, and pretend we do not struggle in our faith. However, if we all deal with doubts as I said then no amount of posturing and posing as if we do not doubt will help. To do anything but deal with them is to ignore reality. If doubts are something we all deal with, we must learn how to deal them. I strongly believe that the church should be a safe place to doubt your faith. The church should be a place where we can doubt openly and honestly. I am sad to say it is not.
To learn how to doubt your faith, where else could we begin but with the famous biblical doubter: Thomas. You may have heard him by the nickname “doubting Thomas.” The story that gives him this name takes place in the days following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just after resurrecting, Jesus stayed with the disciples for about forty days. The resurrected Jesus began appearing to his followers (over 500 in total by time all is said and done).
At the point in the story where we will pick up, Jesus had already appeared to all twelve of his disciples with the exception of one: Thomas.
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” – John 20:24-25
Can you imagine how that must have felt for Thomas? The other disciples along with hundreds of others are excitedly talking about how they saw a dead man, their friend, come back to life!!! Thomas seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We do not know where he was, but one thing is for sure: Thomas has not seen the resurrected Jesus. So, Thomas doubts that Jesus really did rise from the dead. He says, “unless I see it for myself; in fact unless I put my fingers into his wounds, I will NEVER believe.”
Thomas sits in his doubt for eight solid days in the presence of the “privileged disciples.” Jesus could have appeared to Thomas at any point, but he chooses not to do so. Jesus waits eight painful days. Finally, the disciples (including Thomas) were together in the same place and Jesus reveals himself to them all.
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:26-29
Jesus appears among them, but speaks specifically to Thomas saying, “Go ahead, Thomas, put your fingers in my wounds, place your hands on the gashes in my side. Believe!” At this point, something interesting happens. Thomas no longer needs the evidence he demanded. Though Jesus is offering him an opportunity to touch his wounds, Thomas does not take the opportunity. Instead, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
As Jesus often does, He uses this opportunity to teach an important lesson. He asks Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?” Regardless of Thomas’ answer, Jesus offers a better way saying, “Blessed (literally, ‘satisfied’) are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
I believe that, through this interaction, we can learn some tips for how to doubt our faith. And, as we wrestle with our own doubts, I believe we will find the new life that Christ offers us as we grow in our faith.
So, how do you doubt your faith? That’s what we will explore in this five-part blog series.