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Our beliefs are shaped by doubts, by f_lling in th_ gaps

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse

Easter Sunday

March 31, 2024

Acts 4:32-35

1 John 1:1 - 2:2

John 20:19-31

It seems as if we are all doubting Thomases these days. Or we live in a world of them. What really happened in Baltimore when the ship collided with the bridge? Was that really Kate Middleton breaking the news that she has cancer? Did Name a Person really say this, or was it a faked video? What is even real anymore? Unless I see it with my own eyes, can I believe anything?

But the truth is, a healthy amount of doubt is good for us, and better, perhaps for our relationships. I remember once reading a study about what makes a good therapist. The conclusion was all the usual things: empathy, warmth, listening skills. But one key component was that they were willing to exist with doubt - the doubt that they had everything figured out. They were more likely to doubt they were doing a good job, more likely to wonder whether they were helping. The doubting therapist asked more questions, was more cautious about jumping to conclusions, more patient about allowing the answers to reveal themselves. Those questions led to clearer answers. The patient opened them up to new approaches. Their clients got better more often because of it.

That’s not just the kind of person we might want as a therapist. It’s also the kind we’d want as friend, or parent. Likely, it’s who we’d like to be ourselves. By this definition, doubt sounds a lot like wisdom.

Every year, around this time, I come to Thomas’s defense.  Thomas is the disciple who didn’t meet up with Jesus on the road, who is only now hearing the news of the resurrection and is skeptical about all that happened. When Jesus appears again before the disciples, Thomas wants proof that it all went down as everyone is saying. He wants to touch the wounds on Jesus’s hands. For this he gets the gears from Jesus. “Gee, Thomas,” Jesus says, “glad I won you over. Blessed are all those people who believe in me without insisting on the same proof.”

And so, the English language acquired the phrase, ‘doubting Thomas,” which refers to someone who continues to question even when the facts are laid out before them. That isn’t fair to Thomas – who, once presented with the facts, did indeed come to believe. But we might also ask: What’s wrong with being a doubting Thomas?  Shouldn’t we always leave room for questions however comprehensive the facts seem? After all, as history teaches so well, the facts are often fragile in and of themselves.

Let’s assess what Jesus is saying. He doesn’t actually condemn Thomas; he responds to his request by giving him the test Thomas asks for. And what is he really saying about those other people – who believe without the same evidence – which, I guess, would be us? Are we to presume that those people who came to believe without meeting Jesus never had doubt, never had questions? That’s not logical. Our beliefs are shaped by inquiry, by doubt, by filling in the gaps. Otherwise, they are just thoughts that have been spoon-fed to us. Jesus is acknowledging, however, that believing in an idea is harder when you didn’t experience it yourself. It requires more reflection and introspection. It asks us to look inside ourselves to see what defines us. In this respect the disciples had it easy: they knew Jesus, they had heard him speak, they could build belief on memory. They did not have to rely on someone else’s version of the events, as we do. That we might doubt is not a sin; indeed, it is a strength. Faith is not meant to be lukewarm; it is not a shrug; it is a stance we take in life. And what supports that has to be the hard work of questions.

But let’s go back to those doubting therapists. Yes, they questioned their ability to help their clients. But they didn’t give up on therapy. They used those doubts to improve their approaches, to hone their skills, and to listen more closely. And they began to feel more deeply the pain their clients were feeling, and to see more clearly what they needed. Doubt made them better.

In the same way, doubt improves our relationship with God. I meet plenty of people who want to boast about how their faith is a rock – over time, I have come to see, that too often, it is cement hardened around their feet. Those people tend to be resistant to change, to seeing a larger reality. They don’t like diversity because that makes life complicated; they would rather God was one way – their way. Many others have come to me, often in quiet, and spoken of their doubts: is there a God? Does any of it matter? Why am I here? Those people have taught me many lessons, and I have watched their journeys, carrying their doubt with them to find their truthful view of the world. I don’t think those people ever stop doubting. Doubt doesn’t have an easy answer. What I see happening is that they become more comfortable with their doubt, they even find comfort in not knowing, for certain, the answer. Some questions we ask our entire lives. Some beliefs we hold to like life rafts on an open ocean. Some truths change over time.

That’s the journey we are on with doubting Thomas. We want proof when we can have it, and the faith to go on when we can’t. Thomas went from the room a faithful disciple, and he maintained that belief even when the memory of the wounds of Jesus had faded. We can imagine, that since life is complicated, he encountered, as we do, many other times when his faith in the gospel was tested. He worked through that doubt – as we also should, as we must,

Where does that fit in the conspiracy-fueled, questioning world of today? I guess we have to decide what doubts we want to explore, which questions are worth our time. If we are distracted over here, what are we failing to see over there? I like a good pop culture story as much as anyone - there’s refuge in that. But we can’t stay there: we have to be like Thomas and wrestle with our doubt that truly matters. Be wary of when doubt becomes a tool for the kind of world we don’t want.  

In the end, the questions we have are our own work to do – ideally with God. We can discuss them in community together, we can read in the search for answers, we can pore over the gospel, but it is reflection, and internal conversation – that is prayer – that has always brought me to peace with my doubts. That’s what has taught me to see them as components of faith, not destroyers of belief.

Blind faith, after all, only leads us to stumble as soon as life throws something into our path. The questioning faith of those with eyes wide open to the world allows us to prepare for what lies ahead.


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