Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Overcoming Doubt

OVERCOMING DOUBT

Last week we celebrated the resurrection! It was a day of great joy! We heard the stories of that morning and Jesus’ meeting with the couple on the road to Emmaus and how the presence of Jesus warmed their hearts.
Now we begin what is known in the church as the season of Easter. After Jesus’ resurrection, he remained on earth for 40 more days in which he spent time teaching and helping his disciples grow into the roles they would have to claim after Jesus’ ascension. It is a time as well for us to hear these teachings of Jesus and to remind ourselves that as Jesus’ disciples, we too have to grow into the roles God has laid our for us.
I was reading the book, Dear God: Children’s Letters to God, which if you have never read it is a great little book about children’s observations about God. Some are really cute and some are quite insightful. The one that struck me was one from a little boy named Ian. It said, “Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is – if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like disease. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods, too. I’ll try to believe more.” Signed Ian, age 10. There is some Ian in all of us. There are times when we doubt. There are times when our faith makes no sense. There are questions to which we will never have answers. We sometimes we think like Ian – and sometimes we are like Thomas.
Thomas has always been known as Doubting Thomas, but I wonder if we should really call him Honest Thomas. Thomas had honest doubts and he didn’t hesitate to express them - honestly. After Good Friday, Thomas and the other disciples had been certain that their hopes had come to an end with the death of Jesus. Our scripture reading tells us that on Easter evening, the disciples had locked themselves in a house in fear. They had seen Jesus crucified and were afraid the same thing was going to happen to them. We might be surprised to see the disciples so fearful. Peter and John have seen the empty tomb – Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Christ – and Mary told the disciples that Jesus was alive. The couple from Emmaus had been there to tell them they broke bread with Jesus. By this time, on Easter evening, the disciples should have been celebrating in the streets, but were instead locked in a secret room because they were still afraid and doubted these resurrection sightings were true. We can understand their fear and doubt after the crucifixion – but it seems surprising that they are still afraid after the resurrection. But, then, they have only the testimony of two disciples that the tomb was empty – and the testimony of one woman that she had seen Jesus and an almost hysterical couple that had ran all the way from Emmaus. The empty tomb could mean anything – someone could have stolen his body – so that really wasn’t proof that Jesus was alive. And what if a woman said that she had seen Jesus alive. In that culture a woman’s word didn’t mean much. A woman seeing a crime wasn’t allowed to serve as a witness in court. These men discounted Mary’s testimony – Jesus was dead and they all knew it. And they really didn’t know these people from Emmaus so they doubted they were telling the truth.
But then Jesus came through the locked door – came into their locked room – and said, “Peace be with you!” and the fear drained from them and they were stunned – which was quickly replaced with joy! Mary had been right after all. He was alive! But Thomas wasn’t with them that night. Thomas wasn’t there to witness the resurrected Jesus. So later that week when the disciples saw Thomas they told him what had happened – “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas had doubts. “I will not believe!” He told them. “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!” Perhaps we can understand Thomas’ reluctance to believe. While traveling with Jesus, Thomas was one of the most zealous of the disciples, but he saw his worst fears realized. The crucifixion had broken his heart and dashed all that he had believed in and hoped for. Thomas had believed in Jesus but Jesus had betrayed that belief by dying on the cross. So we can understand why Thomas was a little slow to believe again.

And if we are honest there are times when we say the same thing. There are times when we don’t truly believe. Am I sure I’m going to heaven? Am I sure God will really take care of me if I lose my job? Can I really trust God when my spouse gets sick? Sometimes I’m not sure of the promises at all.
It is a week later. Thomas is with the disciples now – still locked in their house. And Jesus appears again and goes directly to Thomas. “Put your finger here and touch my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his failure to believe but gives him what he needs to enable him to believe. Thomas has demanded to see and touch the risen Lord, and Jesus allows him to do that. Thomas then immediately answered Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Think about what peace means to you. If right this minute you were granted peace, what would that be? Would you be transported to a lounge chair on the beach or to a chair sitting on a rippling river? Would it be in front of a crackling fire with a book? Or would you be right here but with all the worry and anxiety and concern gone? Whatever the picture you painted, whatever brought you that feeling of peace, that is what scripture wants us to understand about Jesus in this story of his appearance after the resurrection. His first words to the everyone who saw him were “Peace be with you!”
We have a group of disciples, in a locked room, confused and fearful and unsure of what the future was going to hold for them. Not a feeling that we would associate with peace. Certainly doesn’t make us think of peace. But yet that is what Jesus wants us to see – peace in the midst of turmoil, peace in the midst of fear, peace in the midst of doubt.
But our problem stems from the fact that false ideas about peace and joy are taught to us in our society. These false ideas can distort our entire picture of what life is to be about and of what Christ was talking when he said “Peace be with you!” These false ideas block the true peace that Jesus is offering us.
There was a woman by the name of Sally Bergman who tells the story of how she once went into a worship service where the entire congregation was told: “If you don’t have a smile on your face, you’ve got the wrong religion and shouldn’t be here. Christianity is a religion of joy!” She fled the service in tears – because she did not feel at that time like she could smile – she was having difficulties and was looking for comfort. Instead she was told that she was not good enough for God because she was not smiling. While it is true that Christianity is a religion of joy – Jesus never waits until we are already happy in order to come to us. The risen Christ came to his disciples in the midst of their turmoil and fear. He came in the midst of their doubt and their sense of having failed both him and themselves and Jesus still said to them – Peace be with you.!”
The peace that Jesus offers can be described as the confidence his followers are able to take from his resurrected appearance. His return on that first day of the week signaled the fact that his life and promises will endure. His “peace be with you” was more than a simple greeting. It was a declaration of his promise. Because Jesus is alive, we can have confidence in his presence. The confidence that the disciples received when Jesus came and said to them “Peace be with you” is demonstrated in the change we see in the disciples. When they left that room and went into the world to proclaim the love and forgiveness of God through his Son Jesus Christ. And notice that the external circumstances of the disciples did not change when they realized that peace of Christ. They were going out into a world that hated them; a world that didn’t understand them; a world that would eventually kill all of them.
The peace that Jesus offered them came from their belief, their confidence and their knowledge that nothing could separate them from God’s love even though they still had to face the same situations they faced before they saw the risen Christ. They still had to face the Romans, they still had to risk the wrath of the Jewish authorities, they still had to deal with the crowds who had called for the crucifixion of Jesus. They still had to face trials and tribulations – and so do we.
This is a great story for us. It is a great story for us because it lets us know that when we have those times in our life where we doubt, we are not a failure and God won’t abandon us. Sometimes we doubt when things are going good and we are tempted to doubt we really need Jesus. And sometimes we doubt when things are going badly and we are tempted not to believe in the promise Jesus made to provide for us. We think he has let us down. But just as Jesus comes to Thomas and gives him what he needs to believe, Jesus will never stop coming to us and giving us what we need to believe as well.

Just as Ian admitted he sometimes doubted God, we too sometimes doubt. But Jesus has been resurrected. He is alive and he comes to us to help us through that doubt and even better as we come out of those doubtful moments – he gives us peace. We can have confidence in his promise “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives do I give to you, Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid. Believe in God, believe also in me”. Amen.