Poor doubt, I feel kind of sorry for it. Doubt takes such a beating in our culture, and I think that is rather unfortunate. Where would faith be, if not for doubt? Like night and day, like good and evil, like joy and sorrow… well, like so many other opposite points, the space between them is where all the real action is found. How can we so carelessly toss doubt aside, as if it negates everything? For me, the deepest anchors of faith are not dropped in surety and certitude, but deep in the ocean of doubt.
Is our faith more about making leaps of doubt, rather than leaps of faith alone? Can one exist without the other?
Somewhere around 2005 I heard a radio program on the topic of doubt and I was hooked on doubt as a topic to explore. “A History of Doubt” first aired on what was then called “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett,” in 2003. Tippett’s program, and now podcast, is know known as “On Being,” and “A History of Doubt” continues to find an audience. The program features Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has made doubt a field of study and exploration.
Today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar, even to those who do not follow the Gospel, is about “doubting Thomas.” When I was a kid, I used to think badly of Thomas. Was my point of view informed by my faith education? Probably. I don’t have any specific recollection of hearing this – or any other Gospel – as a child, but my “religious instruction” classes, I do remember. Please know that I was spared any “mean” priests or nuns, so none of this is couched in that. What I do remember is that we were instructed that is that doubt was the opposite of faith. It seemed reasonable enough to me, so I went along with it… when I was 10.
Today I have no such vision. What about you? I can only speak for myself when I say that my faith, something that is so real, so powerful, at the heart of my being, is infused with the on-going scent of doubt. Are you shocked or scandalized to hear this?
Not too long ago, I wrote about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, calling him a dangerous man. One of the images that I was holding at that point, was that of the certitude of some of the Pharisees who not only doubted Jesus, but who used that doubt to plot the death of Jesus.
This is one of the challenges of doubt, at least from where I am. Perhaps it is not doubt that comes first, but what comes first is a certain “knowing.” Doesn’t such certitude, such absolutism, say that there is little room for God? What does such certainty do, when God in fact, can never conform to our limited capacity for knowing God?
So what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? Thomas certainly knew Jesus, didn’t he? But did Thomas know Christ? No – not until that moment of encounter. Go ahead, says Jesus, stick your hand in there, this is for real.
Here is something that I have no doubt of… If Jesus were standing before me, I might faint before I stuck my hand inside of his wound! And perhaps this is where this Gospel leads us to…
What are we so sure of? Do we really love Jesus as much as we say that we do? I mean really, think about it… are you ready to thrust your hand deep into the wound of anyone, even those you love most? Isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do?
Loving Jesus with such hard-core certitude and thinking about how that smarty pants Thomas should have thought twice before questioning God is one thing. It would seem that another way of seeing this is that Thomas offers us a gift… Jesus asks us to enter into the wounds of all. I’m sorry, but that makes me queasy when I think of physical wounds, and overwhelmed when I think of all the other wounds, the ones we can’t see, but that are present in all of us. Thomas, seemingly undaunted, leads the way.
Suddenly certainty has dispersed like fog in the midday sun. We can be so “certain” of so many things, but can we place ourselves inside of the bloody wound? And how can we live Christian lives of sacrifice and service unless we do precisely that – literally and figuratively?
This is where Thomas leads me, and I am grateful to him, and to God, for bringing me to this place where I shrink back, recoiling perhaps in utter horror. Listen, I am VERY squeamish, the thought of such things sends me reeling. Now I can castigate myself for this, or I can see it as an invitation to change.
And is that not what our faith really is, our belief in the Risen Lord? This faith centers around a Triune God, always inviting us, always challenging us, but always welcoming us, to a kind of transformation. That transformation also means moving from doubt to faith, and the constant criss-cross of that territory, for the whole of our lives.
Doubt is nothing to be feared; I believe that doubt is to be befriended. In fact, maybe what we are called to are not only “leaps of faith,” but also of the aforementioned, “leaps of doubt.” Doubt can act as our greatest guide, the very force that leads us into the wounds of Christ and the on-going transformation that follows. I never doubt that is the way of the Lord, and I never doubt how hard it is to follow and believe in God, living as a Christian. This is no one-time decision, made in certitude and lived in certitude; it is an invitation into the mystery of our faith, a life lived in Christ Jesus. To do that we must follow and follow and follow…
Every day, in one fashion or another, propelled by my doubts, I seek to live more deeply in my faith. Yes, a good leap of doubt, taken with a heart of faith, can bring us, like it brought Thomas, closer to the Lord, without a doubt.
You can’t have faith without doubt and certainty is the enemy of faith. I don’t see Thomas as a smarty pants. I see him as being so desolate after the Crucifixion that he cut himself off from the other Apostles to grieve in private. Like many of us, he preferred to stay where he was, fearing that if he trusted what was being said he would be disappointed again. He is only doing what some of the other men (eg the Emmaus two) did when the women brought the news to them.
“We can be so “certain” of so many things, but can we place ourselves inside of the bloody wound? And how can we live Christian lives of sacrifice and service unless we do precisely that – literally and figuratively?” Wow, Fran. Just…wow. What a powerful post!