The Benefit of the Doubts

This second week of Easter is focused on doubt. We hope you use our weekly reflection each day to read, pray and think through this important issue.

There’s this thing that happens each time I pick my kids up from school. Once when get home, put the remnants of lunches away and sit down to do homework, it begins.

“Dad, can I have a snack?”
“Could you help me with my spelling words?”
“Who do you think is tougher – Thor or the Hulk?”
“Dad, did kids make fun of you when you were in school?”
“Where’s my shoes?!?”

Questions, questions and more questions. A never-ending line of questions. Some meaningful, many random. But always lots of questions.

Now I understand that this is a natural and healthy part of development. And as a father I am proud of their inquisitive minds that constantly seek a deeper understanding of the world around them. But holy moly, can it be annoying. (I can admit that, right? We’re all friends here.)

Questions are like that. They are by their nature intrusive. They interrupt the normal flow of life and can cause you to rethink or change direction. Questions can express anxiousness or doubt about the status quo or long-held beliefs.

Which makes me think of our gospel reading for the week and poor old Thomas, who gets such a bad rap. Think about the passage from John 20:

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! (v.19-20, emphasis mine)

Thomas gets picked on for demanding to see the wounds of Jesus before believing the resurrection. But where were the other disciples? Hiding out. Until Jesus appears and shows them his wounds. And then they were filled with joy.

We pick on Thomas for having doubts, but the truth is that every single one of those disciples had doubts about Jesus. If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have been hiding. And Jesus wouldn’t have needed to show all of them his scars. Thomas was definitely not alone in his doubt. His questions were not the only ones among them.

imagesWhy do we act as if our questions or doubts take us farther away from God? My children’s questions show a desire to know the world better, to find out how things move and fit together. If a child asks no questions, we start looking for disorders and development issues. Questions bring us closer to the heart of the issue, not farther away.

How are our doubts any different? When I have questions about miracles or the resurrection, I am moved to explore deeper. And when I am disturbed by how God is portrayed in the Old Testament, I am forced to look closer at the nature of God and scripture.

Our doubts and questions are essential to our spiritual growth. Without them, our faith withers and dies.

Sure, they can be annoying. And our churches are not always places where we difficult questions are embraced. But we need more doubters, not less. According to Richard Beck, we might need to hang a “Doubters Wanted” sign on our church doors:

The assumption might be that doubters would make a church less biblical. However, in a certain key respect doubters often make the church more biblical. Many churches tend to be pretty selective in how they read the bible. These churches often “read around” the more difficult or embarrassing parts of the bible. You can see this vividly in the Lectionary itself. Doubters, by contrast, tend to be drawn to the more difficult parts of the bible and they insist that the church, as hard as this might be, pay attention to these passages. Doubters insist that the whole bible be read. Warts and all.

Let’s stop acting as if the church is filled with people of certainty. We all have our doubts and questions, just like every one of the disciples in John 20. And just like them, Jesus understands our doubts and invites us closer to look and touch. Because our questions are key to our faith.

That’s the benefit of the doubts.

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3 thoughts on “The Benefit of the Doubts

  1. Thanks, Allen. This post has me feeling very introspective. I know that when I acknowledged my doubt two years ago I never thought that it would take me so far away from what I had always known. My experience has been that the Church is a scary place for people who find themselves on the edge of faith and disbelief. But at the same time I am surrounded by Christians who have embraced me in spite of the depth of my doubt. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely those who have called me a blasphemer or an apostate. But for everyone who has judged me there are also those who are secure enough in their trust of God that they are not threatened by the fact that I struggle with believing in His existence.

    I wish that there was some way that I could experience the community and family of church without having to compromise being who I really am, because I truly miss it. It reminds me of a song that I just heard by Macklemore, one of the lines is this “I would rather live telling the truth and be judged for my mistakes than falsely held up, given props, love, and praise.” Maybe someday we can all be secure enough in ourselves that we can accept the differences of others.

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