There’s a story at the end of the Gospel of John, just after Jesus is raised, in which he appears to the disciples. Thomas isn’t there; when the others tell him, Thomas utters the words for which he has become famous, “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.” (John 20: 25) It’s why he’s known as “doubting Thomas”.
Wouldn’t you think that Jesus would tell him to have more faith? But that’s not what happens. Jesus comes back and offers himself to Thomas, “See me; touch me; do not doubt but believe.” At the very end of the story, Jesus blesses “those who have not seen and yet still believe.”
Now if I’m being really honest, that’s a blessing I would rather do without. Given the choice I would rather “see” than “believe.”
Simply put, I wish I didn’t have faith.
I don’t mean I wish I didn’t believe in God or in following Jesus or anything like that. That’s not what I mean at all. In fact, I mean just the opposite.
I wish I had knowledge. I wish I had certainty. I wish I had proof.
I wish I could have been there with Jesus and the others. I wish I could have heard him with my own ears and seen him with my own eyes. I wish I could have seen the empty tomb, or been there to touch the risen Lord with my own hands.
The trouble is that this wasn’t enough for most of the people who had the chance I wish I had. Sure, Jesus and his disciples accumulated thousands of followers, but the majority of people in Jesus’ day didn’t join The Way. They saw just him as yet another in a long line of charismatic teachers and would–be messiahs.
I suspect, though, that if I had been there, it wouldn’t have been enough for me either, or for most of us. But there are days when I crave that kind of certainty, that kind of knowledge and assurance.
But it is not to be. And I suspect I’m not alone. We don’t like to talk about this sort of thing much, but I’m willing to bet that there are many Christians who feel the same way. They have been taught that doubt is the opposite of faith, and so they struggle with their wonderings. They are afraid to talk about it, because they think they’ll be scorned.
But I don’t believe that doubt is the opposite of faith. In fact, I believe that faith embraces our deepest doubts, faces them head on and chooses to trust that God’s goodness is alive in the universe. We have faith precisely because we do doubt. If we didn’t doubt, we wouldn’t have faith. We would have knowledge.
One of my favourite spiritual writers, Frederick Buechner, describes doubt as “the ants in the pants of faith. It keeps it awake and moving.” Faith is a living relationship, in which we choose to trust. Faith is not simply a head trip. It’s an ongoing, living relationship with God. It’s about giving our heart and soul in trust, and walking in the way of Jesus, trusting that God’s purposes are being born in our lives and in the universe.
That’s not a passive believing that everything is going to work out for the best. Christianity is not a foolish, Pollyanna–esque way of living. Rather, living in that kind of relationship with God involves us in a partnership to work with God for the healing of the world.
Throughout Scripture, and throughout the history of the world, God’s people have faced doubt, and continued to live in trust anyway. For many of God’s people who have faced even the deepest of doubts, those doubts have been the very catalyst for their faith. Why? Because the more they doubted, the more they were forced to rely on God to see them through the trials that gave rise to their doubts.
I am a person of faith, not because I’m absolutely certain that God’s life is at work in the world. I am a person of faith because I choose to live in the trust and the hope that it is so. I choose, on the basis of this trust, to live as if it were so.
Some would call me a fool. That’s okay. I’ve been called worse.
But it is precisely this kind of foolishness that gives my life the goodness that keeps me working for healing and compassion to stay alive in the world.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook