Ever doubted a loved one’s words? Had a hard time believing stuff that others found easy to accept? Felt burdened by the doubts and questions you’ve secretly kept in your heart for fear of rebuke? If the answers to these questions is a “Yes,” you’re not alone, and guess what, you’re not wrong for having doubted. We know all too well that faith is rewardable, but can doubt be worthy of reward? Thomas, the “doubter,” would answer in the affirmative. Reading the drama of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and Thomas, I contend that sometimes faith, like conformity, could become a way of escape, whereas doubt, like dissent, could pave way for restoration and discovery.
Historically, Christianity has resorted to the obnoxious practice of labelling people after things they have either said or done, even if it were just once, with Thomas a.k.a. “Doubting Thomas” being just one of the many. In John 20:19-29, we read of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on two separate occasions. Verse 24 informs us of Thomas’ absence during Jesus’ first appearance. And so, when the rest of the disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas unabashedly responds: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (v.25). I imagine Thomas being spurned by the faithful ten (and maybe more) for his failure to believe what his eyes hath not seen and his hands not touched. Despite knowing that his faith, fidelity, and reputation are at stake, Thomas holds firm to his doubts.
After a week had elapsed, Jesus appears to the disciples again, and astonishingly does not rebuke Thomas. Instead, he invites Thomas to touch and examine his wounds, his unguarded body. Thomas’ extension of himself into the wounds of Jesus is an intimate, fleshy, carnal, and painful encounter, reserved only for the “doubter.” Thomas treads where none dared to imagine. While the disciples can only claim to have beheld the Lord, Thomas, having been granted access into the very flesh of Jesus, can further claim to have touched the Lord. His words, “My Lord and my God,” is an expression of faith ushered by doubt. I suppose Jesus’ reappearance was only to fulfill Thomas’ discreditable desire.
Doubt, my friends, is not the opposite of faith; certainty is. And if doubt is the opposite of certainty, are we not then allowed to harbor doubts and questions during this time of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety? (Mind you, the disciples too were in a place of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety). Surely, we can. If “doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty” (a quote from the movie Doubt), can’t doubt be an important clog in our faith journey? Surely, it can. Doubt is not an impediment to faith but rather it is faith’s best companion and critique.
Bertram Johnson, the Interfaith Minister at Union Theological Seminary, rightly observed during our Sunday’s online worship that there is a “reward to doubt.” That reward, as witnessed through a moment in Thomas’ life, was an invitation to a place of vulnerability, intimacy, and grace. If faith allows us to see the renewing that the resurrection promises, doubt allows us to touch and experience the wounds that the renewing emerges from. While the process might be painful and agonizing, the reward is precious and holy. May we not stifle doubt or be threatened by it, for doubt might just be a locus for a faith deeply rooted in the flesh wounds of Jesus.
Harboring doubts? Stand firm in them for your reward is nigh.