"Easter 02: Doubt"
by Tim Suttle
2017.04.23 Easter 02
John 20:19-31 – Doubt
Quick Test – on your fingers or something, keep track of how many of these things you think are actually true. I’ll give you 10 things… see how many…
Cookie Monster has a real name: Sid
Maine is the closest state to Africa
Anne Frank, MLK Jr., & Barbara Walters were born in the same year
Oxford University is older than the Aztec Empire
The Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland
There are more fake flamingos in the world than real flamingos
John Tyler, 10th president of the U.S. has 2 living grandchildren
There are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the U.S.
It rains diamonds on Saturn & Jupiter
Alaska is the most northern, western, & eastern state in the U.S.
How many 2 or fewer? 5 or fewer? 8 or fewer? All 10? All 10 is right… all true.
PT: So, this is a list of things that are outlandish, but they’re actually true; but we all have this natural posture of doubt, so we reject things that seem off, and this is good. This is part of what keeps us from falling for internet scams & hucksters.
Now, what about the opposite? What about things that you have always been told are true, but they’re not actually true at all… like:
Napoleon wasn’t actually short; he was 5’7” which was tall back then.
If humans handle baby birds & return them to their nests, their moms will reject them (birds have notoriously bad sense of smell).
Thanksgiving: tryptophan in Turkey makes you sleepy. There’s tryptophan in lots of things… overeating makes you sleepy.
If you go outside in winter w/wet hair you’ll catch a cold.
Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.
Touching a toad will give you warts.
None of those things are true, even though we heard them all our lives.
If you’re like me you start to wonder what else isn’t true…
Answer is: it doesn’t take 7 years to digest gum… can’t digest it at all, it just goes right through your system.
PT: Those two categories bring out our natural doubt & doubt is good… things that we’ve been told are true but they’re not; things that seem outlandish but they’re actually true. You are supposed to doubt those things.
We’ve entered into the last major season of the calendar last week
We are in the season of Eastertide and the Great 50 Days.
We’ve been through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent…
Now the Season of Eastertide: 7 weeks long plus Easter Sunday.
Often called the great 50 days.
Between Advent & Pentecost we follow the church calendar, which means that I’m assigned the text for each week … Revised Common Lectionary.
It’s this 3 years cycle of texts.
This is our 3rd time through the lectionary.
And some patterns are beginning to emerge.
One of them is that the week after Easter is devoted to the story of doubting Thomas & the subject of Doubt…
Which if you think about it, makes a lot of sense.
PT: If you want to talk about resurrection, you also have to talk about the ways in which this story strains credibility. Resurrection is just one of those things that we are naturally prone to doubt as human beings.
In 1st century AD & 50-year span on either side of that century (=200 year period in Jewish history), we know of 10-12 Jewish messianic movements.
We know what they did.
… that they talked about the kingdom of God.
… they promised signs and wonders & political deliverance… and…
We know that (in every case there’s any evidence) all of these movements ended w/the violent death of their messianic figure.
In the first century when your Messiah died you really only had two choices:
Give up the movement… or Find a new Messiah.
But, after Jesus was crucified, his followers didn’t do either of those.
They continued the movement with Jesus still at the head, claiming him as Lord & Messiah.
And when they were asked why, they only gave one reason:
Jesus had been resurrected.
(which wasn’t any easier to believe in 1st century than it is today).
So Thomas’ response was not that out of the ordinary.
Jesus’s resurrection is one of those things that sounds outlandish,
Anytime a would-be-Messiah met their doom they’d say:
Oh well.. I guess we’ll just keep waiting.
Nobody ever said, Our Messianic hopeful was raised by God!
So, the Resurrection is one of those things it’s easy to doubt.
And Christians have not traditionally done very well with this subject of doubt. We’ve usually had one of two responses:
Suppress & ignore all doubts… or…
Come up w/elaborate schemes & apologetics to prove doubters wrong.
What the church hasn’t done very well is to recognize how important our doubts can be in terms of building up our faith.
Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, it might just be that faith is impossible without some kind of uncertainty or doubt… I mean… In the scriptures:
Faith isn’t about how certain you are about your beliefs.
Faith is about acting in fidelity even though you can’t know for sure how it’ll work out… that’s faith … it requires uncertainty… So:
Faith isn’t about how certain you are about your beliefs.
Faith is about what direction you’re moving in your life.
If that’s the case, then Thomas was a man of great doubts & great faith.
Thomas is mentioned in the New Testament 3 times...
The first is when Lazarus had died & Jesus wants to go raise him.
The disciples say, “No they’ll kill you if we go back.”
Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
There Thomas was ready to act in faith…
The second place we read about Thomas is at the last supper in John 14.
JS tells them, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
I love this… there’s the slightest hint of frustration in Thomas’ voice.
What the what?
You’re going somewhere… we can’t go?
You’re preparing Rooms? What rooms … what you are talking about!
PT: And it’s ironic that in response to Thomas’ doubt we get one of the most well known verses from the entire NT… “I am the way, the truth & the life.”
Despite his doubts, Thomas never stops following after Jesus …
Can you imagine the next week for Thomas?
…stuck on the outside… the only one that didn’t see Jesus.
But, he waited around, and when JS finally showed himself, Thomas was immediately all in.
I love the famous Caravaggio painting of Thomas, touching Jesus’s side. That’s the picture we all have in our minds.
But, the text doesn’t say anything about Thomas touching him.
Jesus makes the offer, but Thomas doesn’t seem to need it.
He blurts out, “My Lord & my God.”
Thomas is a doubter, but he’s incredibly faithful.
We can say this because: Faith is not about how certain you are about your beliefs. Faith is about what direction you’re moving in your life.
Faith does not imply certainty.
In fact it implies the opposite.
In fact a good working definition of faith is: Acting to be trustworthy and to trust, despite the fact that you cannot be certain.
Hebrews 11:1 says it this way: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Do you hear the uncertainty in that?
I mean, anytime you get on an airplane your exercising faith.
You don’t know for certain that the pilots are sober.
You don’t know for certain there’s not a terrorist onboard.
You don’t know they won’t drag you off the flight cuz they overbooked!
But it’s a pretty safe bet, & you wanna go to Chicago…
So you act in faith and hop on the plane.
Marriage is very similar.
You don’t know for certain your spouse won’t go crazy, or get injured, or make a fool of you & all the sudden life as you know it is over.
To get married is an act of faith: It involves moving & acting in a particular trajectory despite uncertainties.
The same is true of all our beliefs.
You believe God? … that is an act of faith.
You don’t believe in God? … that is an act of faith is well.
Because it might just turn out that he does exist.
You believe Jesus rose from the dead… that ‘s an act of faith.
You are going beyond the evidence if you believe that.
I think you are going with the evidence, & it’s reasonable to believe…
But it’s still an act of faith.
You don’t believe he rose from the dead… that’s an act of faith as well.
You have to ignore a lot of evidence.
And it might just turn out that he did rise from the dead.
All beliefs are a matter of faith… they involve uncertainty & risk.
PT: Faith is not about how certain you are about your beliefs. Faith is about what direction you’re moving in your life. Acting to be trustworthy and to trust, despite the fact that you cannot be certain. Faith = active fidelity, faithfulness.
You want to know what you have faith in? Look at what direction you’re moving in your life. You are moving toward the things in which you have put your faith.
We see this most often in our relationships.
Most of us could name 1-2 relationships (most often a spouse or child)
And we’re in a pattern where we twist everything the spouse or child does into evidence of how jacked up they are.
Everything becomes an example of how badly they need to change.
We place our faith in the idea that this person is broken beyond repair.
So the direction we move … is that everything is this person’s fault.
If you put your faith in that reality, then you’ll move toward that reality.
And it usually ends up coming true… let me tell you something:
Even God does not presume to think that about human beings.
God risked it all… in faith… that human beings, when they encounter true unconditional love, can heal and grow and change.
God has way more faith in us than we have in ourselves…
God’s mvmt & action is almost always toward us in love.
God has way more faith in us than we have in each other.
This is why faith has so much power… it’s about trajectory & and motion, & what direction you are moving.
When we have faith in one another we move toward one another.
Sure, we fight and argue and wrestle and work things out.
But, when we break faith w/someone it’s not simply that we cease to have faith in them… we place our faith in the idea that they’re lousy!
And we begin to move toward that faith in the direction of our lives.
This is how marriages fail.
This is how trust erodes between parents & children.
This is how friendships dissolve.
This is the beginning of conflict & war & violence…
PT: It’s really only as you begin to move in the direction of faith that you begin to see that there is real power to change lives in an act of faith. In believing and trusting despite the fact you can’t be certain of how things will work out. There’d be no marriage w/out it… no friendship… no family… no church… no gov’t… And the lack of certainty is part of the key, because when certainty shows up, faith disappears & all that’s left is knowing. There’s no faith required for knowing.
Certainty is easy & boring… doubt involves risk & that’s actually thrilling for us.
You go to a restaurant or read a book because a friend suggests it to you, there’s a little risk involved = small one.
You share a deep dark secret with a friend – that makes you vulnerable to them… they could really hurt you w/it…
We are all made vulnerable in that act of faith.
PT: When we put faith in something, we take a little piece of ourselves & put it in someone else’s hands …it involves a risk. We can be hurt. And we have been designed by God to want to do this – to want to take those risks.
And you can’t mitigate the risk. If you do it destroys faith.
EX: ever watched the movie the Stepford Wives? Seen this film?
It takes place in this town called Stepford, where Robots (that look exactly like them) have replaced all of the wives.
They do exactly what the men want without question.
There is no uncertainty, no risk, no chance of betrayal.
But, guys… would you want a woman, if you could have one, who always: dressed up for you, always fixed the food you wanted, always cleaned up after you, always agreed with everything you said, devoted herself to your pleasure at the expense of her own freedom? Would you want that?
The correct answer here would be “no.”
You do not want that.
Say it with me, “No, I don’t want that.”
That’s not love, that’s not faith… that’s robotics!
“Stepford” is a nightmare of a community.
Because there’s no vulnerability, no need for trust or faith.
And without those things, love is removed as well.
PT: The only way humans can relate to one another in intimacy, friendship, community and love is through vulnerability and the possibility of getting hurt. That’s the only way faith can exist as well.
It’s the only way to honor the freedom & dignity of the person.
That’s how it works –Faith takes trust, risk, and vulnerability
It’s the only path to community, friendship, intimacy & love.
Part of the healthy role that doubt plays in our lives is that it keeps us from being robots.
EX: Ever known somebody who’s part of a church where everybody just believes what the pastor says – no matter what (stepford church)
You’re on the outside & can’t believe how people buy it?
It seems so obviously toxic.
When I teach, you guys, your job is to continually doubt the things that I’m saying to you. Nobody needs to believe everything I teach.
To be a part of RC, you don’t have to buy everything I’m saying.
A couple years later & I may not agree with myself!
You listen, you doubt it, you consider it, wrestle with it.
And trust the Spirit to guide our hearts.
What matters is NOT that we think exactly alike (stepford church)
But that we all keep following Jesus, keep on faithing…
Part of my job is to try and get you to doubt the things you’ve always been taught. I think this is a sacred thing, to get you to doubt some of what you’ve always believed.
You can just see Jesus doing this with his followers.
Concerning the teachings of the Pharisees
Concerning the power of the Jewish Leaders, the Romans
Concerning the nature of God’s kingdom.
… blessed are the meek, mourners, the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted?
And all of those, “you’ve heard it said, but I say” teachings…
Those teachings sound like they’re from the list of things that sound false, but they’re really true.
And the reason FAITH is so necessary is because you cannot discover the truth of those teachings until you begin to live them out.
You know, most of the most beautiful and profound realities about life can only be found after you make the commitment.
Hauerwas says this about marriage: marriage isn’t what you get when you stand up in front of everybody & say “I do.”
That’s a wedding… a marriage is what you look back on after 10 years of living in fidelity to each other.
Having children, choosing a career, changing jobs, joining a church… the joy of those things doesn’t come up front.
It comes after you make the commitment.
This is a good Q for us to think about: What direction are you moving in your commitments: spouse, kids, boss, co-workers, neighbor, family?
Sure you are going to doubt them… it’s totally fine to doubt them.
But Faith is about: Acting to be trustworthy and to trust, despite the fact that you cannot be certain.
Belief in God, belief in Jesus, belief in the resurrection, belief that Jesus is the world’s true Lord… it follows that same pattern.
Doubting is not a problem when it comes to faith.
There will always be doubt involved in all of our beliefs about God.
If there’s not, then you aren’t really taking them seriously.
There’s doubt involved for sure… but here’s the thing:
You work out those doubts from the inside the faith.
You work on the doubts after submitting to live in covenantal relationship w/God, w/the people of God and with the tradition.
This is one of the things that Evangelicalism really struggles with because of our lack of engagement with Christian tradition.
By Christian tradition I mean things like scripture…
How often to you engage scripture on your own? Stats say, “not much.
What about prayer? … meant to be the central act of Xians existence.
Worship, communion, Sabbath, confession, prayer, service, liturgy…
When we submit ourselves to the Christian tradition, we are given this safe ground upon which we can wrestle with all of our doubts.
Without that safe ground, doubting becomes very dangerous.
And when doubt is seen as dangerous, then organizations end up spending all their energy policing and punishing doubters.
They try to abolish doubt from their midst… but… if you abolish all doubt, what is left behind is not faith, it’s logic / or mathematics.
This is the nature of religious fundamentalism: no Q’s, only answers.
No doubts, only certitudes… that lead to self-righteousness and pride.
Certitude is way more dangerous than doubt.
It’s like that joke: 3 men on a plane: Pilot / Boy Scout / World’s smartest man.
The engine fails & the plane is going down / only 2 parachutes.
World’s smartest man says,
“I’m sorry fellas, but I’m the world’s smartest man, I have a responsibility to the planet,” he grabs a parachute jumps out
The Pilot looks over at the boy scout & says, “You take it, I’ve had a good life – tell my wife that I love her.”
The Boy Scout looks at him and says, “Relax, Captain – the world’s smartest man just jumped out of the plane with my backpack on.” -
THAT’S what CERTITUDE will get you.
PT: This happens to me all the time as I sit with people… we are so sure we are the world’s smartest man, or woman… so certain about everything, with so little patience with those who are struggling with their doubts. It’s like we’re jumping out of a plane with a backpack on! And it’s gonna be a long hard fall to the earth.
When certainty becomes synonymous with faith, churches spend all their energy policing and punishing doubters.
All because they didn’t have a safe place to wrestle w/their doubts.
You are free to doubt every one of your beliefs as long as you do it from inside the tradition … tradition gives you safe ground on which to ask any question.
Anytime this has been ignored in the history of Christianity, there have been huge problems… schism, often bloodshed.
The Christian tradition is the framework within which we are free to wrestle with whatever questions are soul needs to ask.
And then: we’re asked to share the knowledge, & wisdom that results with the rest of the body.
This is how doubting builds up the body of Christ.
…because I may struggle w/the same doubts some day.
You might have some wisdom that will help me thru...
That’s how doubting becomes a way of keeping faith w/people of God.
Now the opposite can be true as well. Doubting can be overindulged, overgrown, and unchecked.
If we try to wrestle w/doubts without being tethered to the Christian tradition we start down a path that leads to human suffering & despair.
There’s a time to doubt and a time to cease doubting for a while.
Often people can slide into a pattern of doubting that is really just meant to hurt themselves and the people around them.
For example: in marriage… dating is the time for doubt; a time to wonder if you should live in fidelity to this person.
It doesn’t serve any purpose to entertain doubts about the marriage.
Once you’re married you act & move in faith even if you’re not always certain about the wisdom of the commitment you’ve made.
To continue to play around with doubt will only erode the marriage.
You can still ask Qs if you live in fidelity, moving toward other in faith.
Some of you may be in the situation in terms of your relationship with Jesus.
You have enough evidence… there’s light & heat to it…
But you are keeping one foot out the door.
Living your own life, and doing your own thing.
Yeah, you have your reservations… things about which u aren’t certain
But faith isn’t about certainty.
Faith is about acting in spite of uncertainty.
If you’re waiting to have absolute certainty it will never happen.
And if it does it’s no longer faith it’s just logic or mathematics.
If that’s you, maybe it’s time to get moving in the direction of JS.
It’s like the difference between a sailboat and a train.
What most of us want is for faith to be like a train.
You get on board & pick your destination.
You never deviate from the track.
You don’t even have to make that many stops.
It’s all forward motion until you reach your destination.
If faith is like a train, then the only thing you have to do is make sure you’ve picked the right train.
Anybody who has lived a life of faith for any amount of time will tell you: that’s just not how it works. It’s not smooth sailing on 1 track.
Faith isn’t like a train, it’s like a sailboat.
Everyday you have to check the winds… currents… watch the weather.
You have to see if there’s anyone else on the boat who can help you.
You have to adjust constantly just to move in the same direction.
Sometimes you hit the doldrums and there’s no wind… no motion.
Sailing is about constant change:
Change your tack – Change your course – Change your approach.
What works today may not work tomorrow because the wind changed or the currents are different.
Sailing isn’t about picking the right track & hitting cruise control.
Sailing is about responding, constantly adjusting, acting, changing, growing, and even doubting & wondering if headed right way.
Doubt is part of the human experience… so of course it’s part of the Christian experience, too.
Often the truth you seek will come at the end of a long road of doubt.
Sometimes doubt is the very thing that keeps us chasing after God.
Doubt often is the tool God uses to pry from our hands the old ideas about God that need to go.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you should try to get some doubts:
I'm saying that you already have them.
Either you talk about them and be honest about them
Bring them to God – bring them to your church family.
Or they’ll come out in other ways.
Anger, rage, escapism, addiction… certitudes…
Or worst of all just try to convince yourself you have no doubts.
Then create a church that doesn’t allow doubt either.
PT: If you are going to follow Jesus & allow him to be Lord of your life, you have to be willing to wrestle with your doubts & it’s scary. But here’s the thing… you have nothing to be afraid of… absolutely nothing.
Pray: acknowledge your doubts to God… ask God to meet you in those places