Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Power of Doubt

I'm not preaching today ... the rector is and I'm looking forward to his sermon, provocatively entitled "The Importance of Atheists." But I have been reflecting on today's gospel -- the story of the one who is most frequently referred to as "Doubting Thomas" -- and I'm convinced his witness is an important one for us to not only celebrate but to claim on this Second Sunday of Easter 2008.
Long story short, I think there is much to be admired in Thomas' dogged insistence that he deserved his own experience of the risen Lord -- that a "faith received from the apostles" was somebody else's faith ... and he wasn't going to settle for it. I'm struck this morning by the fact that he was not with the others in the upper room the first time Jesus appeared ... that he, alone evidently, had ventured outside while the rest of them were huddled in what we are told was "fear the religious authorities."
It must have taken some courage to venture out alone ... wherever he went. And, by the same token, it took some courage to stand up and say "I want to see for myself" -- to ask for what he needed to believe.
And here's the best part: Jesus gave it to him. When Jesus returned, what's the first thing he did? Go to Thomas and say "I know what you need -- here: see my hands, touch my side ..."
I believe it was Thomas' willingness to doubt that led him to an even deeper faith: a faith that was his own and not somebody else's. Verna Dozier famously wrote (in her seminal book The Dream of God):
Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.
Thomas' example calls us to risk the doubts that call us to greater faith -- opens us to the things we cannot even image today that we may be called to risk, to embrace, to proclaim on behalf of the Gospel as we move forward into God's future.
Imagining a new Diocese of San Joaquin, moving forward in mission and ministry. Imagining an Anglican Communion listening to the experience of all the baptized in order to more fully understand the power of God's love in the lives of the faithful. Imagining an Episcopal Church refusing to be blackmailed into bigotry and making its 1976 commitment to a "full & equal claim" for its LGBT baptized not a resolution but a reality.
And, most importantly, on this Second Sunday of Easter 2008, I believe we receive the same invitation from our Lord and that he gave to Thomas. Listen to Jesus say today: see me. Touch me. Ask for what you need in order to believe and I will give it to you. And then, go out like Thomas did -- into the world without fear in order to call others to claim for themselves a relationship -- an experience -- a faith in the One who loves us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to walk in love with God and with each other.
And now ... off to church!


Jesse said...

I wish you shepherded a community closer to me here in Florida. But never-the-less my soul is blessed by the messages God gives you to speak here. Thank you Susan for everything you do. Not just your church and Integrity but for all of us who read your blogspot regularly. I always come away from you spritually fed and afterall that's the other thing a shepherd does isn't it? Easter blessings to you and your Family, Jesse/Zephyrhills, Florida

James L. Smith said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

We are all a little bit like Thomas, but Jesus also had a word for us: blessed are them who have not seen, yet believe."
So while Jesus did help Thomas with his belief, Jesus also wants us to believe without seeing the physical evidence.
I always take comfort in the misdeeds of the disciples. It gives me hope that at those times when I fall asleep when Jesus wants me awake or deny him like Peter with my actions the Father in heaven still awaits me with Salvation.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim of Michigan

Sacred Pauses said...

Good point that I don't at as much as I should with the "Twin" story. I'm always drawn right to the premise of the blessed faithfulness of those who have NOT seen, and yet they still believe. those who have not been included in the full body of Christ as are our expectations, and yet... yet they still Show Up as always. Ever faithful. Keep the faith!

edav38 said...

"I believe it was Thomas' willingness to doubt that led him to an even deeper faith: a faith that was his own and not somebody else's."

True, but there may have been more to it.

How would the masses believe that Jesus really had risen and it was Not just a "story" that the apostles could tell as they spread the "message" in the years to come?

The apostles were on the verge of springing the Message, death and Resurrection of CHRIST on a world that had nothing Real to really believe in. All of their other religions were false religions, yet for many of them, they had been force, from the end of a sword, to believe in a false god. What about this New "god" were they expected to sacrifice their very lives for to believe in?

Likely GOD was using Thomas to Teach the Apostle's the Need to make sure they taught CHRIST's message in such a way, with such a Zeal, as to Lift others up in order to Give them the courage to Believe in that which would Likely cause them to Die for it.

NO, God does not want us to Have to die for believing in Him, but we have to remember the times in which they lived. It was very Common to be killed if you did not believe as the Majority believed in (we seem to be returning to these times).

Verna doesn't know what she is talking about: "Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today."

this is Wrong on SO MANY Levels, I can't begin to explain them all. JESUS WAS AFRAID (Matt 26:37-42, Mark 14:33-37, John 13:21)

Is she suggesting that Jesus had no Faith? HE Knew what was coming, yet He was in Human Form at that time, suceptible to Human Pains, Ills and even Fear. Why would she say "Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is." Knowing that Jesus had fear?

Doubting Thomas had his part to play in the Miracle, just a Judas had his part to play in the Miracle(John 13:25-27).

Everyone is always looking Negatively upon Judas, yet Jesus Always Knew what Judas would do, and still he kept him close at hand at all times, because Jesus Needed Judas to do as he was going to do, so that the Prophecy Could take place as it needed to take place.

Jesus Knew what was coming, but He also Knew it Had to come in order to offer mankind a Way to Salvation. But that does Not take away His ability to Fear what was coming. We Know Why He was afraid, and we Know that He Already Knew what was coming. But considering that even though He was GOD in human Form, should that have kept Him from having Fear?

You tell me. Knowing that you would soon be Ridiculed in Public, Humiliated, Beaten to within inches of life, Cut, Maimed, had a crown of Euphorbia milii Thorns: shoved on your head and then Crucified (that is having Thick Metal Nails pounded through the Bone and skin of your hand, and then a Spear shoved through your side as you hung suspended 10-20 feet from the ground), Would you be "Courageous" and have no Fear? If you Did have fear about all of that, that was about to happen to You, Could we say you have no Faith?

Look at that Picture and tell me you would not be afraid of of those thorns being shoved on your head.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.
-- Ambrose Redmoon.

"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." ~C.S. Lewis

Who bravely dares must sometimes risk a fall.
- Tobias G. Smollett.

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.
-Oscar Wilde

Jesus most definitly had Fear, as Seen by his own words. Does this make Him "Faithless"?

Verna needs to go back and Re-Think her belief in what "Fear" is, because she apparently doesn't understand the concept.

Susan, I would Gladly risk going thru what Jesus went through just to Save the life of those whom I LOVE, Even the man who does not know I love him as I do, But, that does not mean I would not Fear it.

Jesus most assurdly Feared what He was about to go through, but he was Courageous enough to Allow it to happen to Him. Because without His Courage in the Face of His Fear, WE, the human race, would Not Hvae Salvation.

Lindy said...

Well, I liked the whole thing and I found quite a lot here to think about.

Thank you for your blog and for all you do in this great church.


Jane said...

Isn't doubt a necessary ingredient of faith, another way of expressing that self-questioning that leads to deeper understanding as well as a meaningful rather than an unquestioningly received belief? Has Thomas always had a bad press simply because he needed to 'see it for himself', he wouldn't simply accept what he was being told? Yet that personal will to feel the pain of another, as Thomas had the courage to feel the wounds of Jesus, is something we can surely identify with. As we've experienced our own doubts and pain, as we've been told simply to accept unquestioningly the party line, even while knowing we need to find out for ourselves the truth in our worlds. Surely doubt is a wonderful quality.

Rob said...

Matthew 14:31 "Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 21:21 "And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen."

Matthew 28:17 "And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted."

Mark 11:23 "Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him."

Luke 24:38 "And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?"

Doubt is good, helpful or powerful? That isn't what scripture seems to be saying.

Jane said...

Rob, I'd rather seek a dynamic dialogue with texts than simply quote them and swallow them verbatim. Still, each one of us is Christian in his or her own way. God bless, Jane.