I remember as a teenager, lying in my bed, and asking Jesus to appear to me! “Just once, so I would know for certain that it’s all true” And you know something? The big blighter never turned up. Nothing! Nada!
I wish faith was easy, don’t you? I wish God would give each of us some unmistakable sign. Nothing too dramatic. Well, that is not exactly true, is it? Actually, it would have to be pretty dramatic.
God gives us “signs” all the time, but we take them for granted, or ignore them. Little signs don’t count, because they are not dramatic enough!
Faith is not easy. God never meant for it to be. It is part of the struggle we go through. After the first Easter, Jesus came and stood with the disciples in the locked room and breathed on them…
But, for some unknown reason, one of the apostles, Thomas, was missing that first Easter evening, (he was probably curled up under his duvet somewhere, saying, God, just give me one wee sign and I’ll believe it all…..) and Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to see Jesus for himself. Thomas said, “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.”
Thomas was a realist. He had been hurt and disappointed. He had expected so much from Jesus. Then, to watch him die on the cross like a common thief was too much for Thomas to bear. He had his hopes dashed once. We have to admire Thomas for being so honest with his doubts. He just could not believe without seeing Jesus for himself.
We all go through these moments of doubt, don’t we? Sometimes our wildernesses don’t just last for days, but weeks and months and years.
We see the suffering in cancer wards, children being abused and neglected, horrific things like what’s happening in Palestine just now, earthquakes in Italy, and of course we doubt!
“If there is a God who cares so much for you, why did he allow things, horrible things, to happen?
Unfortunately there are people who have experienced much tragedy in their lives and think God has deserted them.
People have always struggled with their doubts. The early Christians had just as much trouble believing as we do. The apostles did not believe until they saw the risen Lord with their own eyes. They told Thomas but he didn’t believe the news either. He had to see for himself.
But sometimes these periods of doubt and questioning lead us to a greater understanding of faith.
Someone once wrote, “As a new believer, I had a fragile faith. I pretended a confidence I often didn’t feel because I thought asking questions or admitting doubts indicated unbelief. Later I came to realize that searching the scriptures and talking honestly with other Christians is a way of building and strengthening my faith. I found that others often shared my questions, and we could together seek answers.”
Often, new folk in the congregation are afraid to ask about things because they may be deemed stupid amongst a group of people who “know and believe it all unquestionably”. They must be encouraged to ask and challenge us!
There’s nothing wrong with asking questions and admitting our doubts. Thomas came to believe, as we must too!
Someone in the congregation said to me recently that they had problems believing in the Virgin birth, and I casually mentioned that to somebody else, and they felt something similar… and someone else raised the same doubt! That’s OK. It’s fine to have doubts, but we have to share our doubts. We have to be bold enough to ask the stupid question.
Often in our Study Groups, a wee “mouse” will ask a question, and be totally relieved to find that many others wanted to ask the same question, but were afraid to, in case they looked stupid! Be bold! Ask the questions! Raise the doubts, then we can talk through them and perhaps come to faith!
Because, often, our periods of doubts and questions lead us to faith.
As a result, we’re going to start a wee study group on the Creed.
Thomas struggled with his doubts for a week. Notice that Thomas still met with the other apostles. He was not excluded from the group because he didn’t believe them. In fact the doubter was very welcome in the congregation!
That says something important about being the church. We do not exclude people just because they are searching. Such searching may be a springboard for an even greater faith. Certainly it was for Thomas.
Jesus told the disciples after Thomas, that there is a better way of coming to faith. It is about hearing and listening, and questioning and discussing!
He is saying to them that faith would come by one person sharing with another exactly what the Gospel has meant in his or her life. “Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have come to faith,” Jesus said.
From that moment on people would depend on the witness of the previous generation and the personal testimony of those whose lives have been transformed by the power of the indwelling Spirit.
Jesus’ words were spoken not only for them but also for us. We are invited to hear the Gospel message and believe – through our conversations and dialogue with others, by sharing, by their example and experience, and through their touch.
From now on, Jesus said, people will respond and believe not because they have seen but because they have heard the message of salvation. Doubt is part of living.
Faith is often a struggle. But it is available – available to all who will hear and struggle and come to believe.