Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is proclaimed every year on the second Sunday of Easter. St. Thomas, the disciple who doubts, represents the reality of the early church that comes after the first community of disciples. All but the first disciples must now believe without seeing the Resurrected Jesus. Like St. Thomas, we may at times doubt the news that Jesus, who was crucified and buried, appeared to his disciples in a glorified body. It is part of our human nature to seek hard evidence. Thomas says that he must not just see, but touch the wounds. Thomas knows that the proof of Jesus’ resurrection is found in the wounds. The wounds must be real, not just by showing them, but by inviting Thomas to touch them. This is an incredible act of intimacy and vulnerability. Author Anne Lamott wrote that “the opposite of faith is not doubt: it is certainty.” I think she’s right. Faith isn’t the absence of doubt, but the trust that something can be true despite our doubts.
But doubting one’s faith in God can be a very tough place to be in. It is unsettling, disorienting, and frightening when it happens. You doubt that God cares, that he is listening; you doubt that he is even aware of who you are. Sometimes we think of our faith as safe, comfortable, unchanging, familiar. But what if God doesn’t want us to be comfortable and safe? What if comfortable and safe keep God at a distance? Doubt tears down the safe walls to force us on a journey. It may feel like God is far away or absent when in fact doubt is a gift of God to move us to spiritual maturity. Doubt is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of growth. Doubting God is painful and frightening because we think we are leaving God behind, but we are only leaving behind the idea of God we like to surround ourselves with—the small God, the God we control, the God who agrees with us. Doubt forces us to look at who we think God is. Doubt signals that we are in the process of dying to ourselves and to our ideas about God.
Father Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, writes about holding the full mystery of life (which I think is another way of saying “having faith”). He says, and again, I think he’s right, that “to hold the full mystery of life is always to endure its other half, which is the equal mystery of death and doubt. To know anything fully is always to hold that part of it which is mysterious and unknowable.” Fr. Rohr says, “Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. Our pain must first be an ordinary wound before it can become a sacred wound. Suffering of some kind seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance, surety and ignorance. All healthy religions show you what to do with your pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If your religion is not showing you how to transform your pain, it is junk religion. If you are encouraged to wallow in your pain, something is very wrong.
It isn’t hard at all to find examples of those who have not dealt well with their pain; our society is filled with them, those who deflect and pass on pain to others, knowingly or not. As human beings, we need a God with scars, reminders of struggles we’ve been through, of all kinds; but scars are also a sign of the healing process of life. The scars that Jesus showed to Thomas, paired with his announcement of forgiveness and peace, drove home the reality of Jesus’ transforming love and surprising presence. Don’t run away from doubt. Don’t fight it. Don’t think of it as the enemy. Pass through it—patiently… and honestly… and courageously. When you are in doubt, you are in a period of transformation. Welcome it as a gift—which is hard to do to if your entire universe is falling down around you. God is teaching you to trust him, not yourself.
He means to have all of us, not just on the surface of going to church, volunteering, or being involved in ministries; not just the part people see, but the part no one sees. Not even you.
Touch and believe; the two go hand in hand. We meet the risen Jesus when we touch the wounds of the world – the wounds of the poor, the wounds of the suffering. No one comes to believe meaningfully in the possibilities – for peace, justice, for the fruits of resurrection – until he touches the wounds of others. Without that, our believing reeks of sanctimony and religiosity. Through our work among the homeless, in soup kitchens and shelters, through our work with the sick and dying in hospitals, our work among migrants and prisoners, our work in warzones and refugee camps, our work in our broken inner cities, whenever we meet the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized – when we touch their wounds, their pain, their suffering – we meet the risen Christ. We discover God. And this encounter not only gives us new life and hope, it changes our lives.