Can Doubting Be Good For The Soul?

April 7, 2013 — 9 Comments

CLogo Transparent jpeg without wordsan a little doubting be good for the soul? Perhaps more than we might realize, if Thomas and the other apostles are any example to be emulated.  

 

Dr. Jana Childers teaches homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She was once invited to preach at a Good Friday service at Allen Temple Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in Oakland. Seven women preachers were invited to preach on the seven last words of Jesus.

A young man about ten or eleven years old was one of the soloist for the service. Jana said he started out “a good two blocks from the key the organist was in.” But the boy got plenty of encouragement from the congregation. “All right, now,” and “That’s right. Sing, child” was heard from all over the sanctuary.

Jana then noticed that Deacon Sellers, a soloist with a beautiful baritone voice that was also singing that day, had begun to sing  along quietly with the boy. Some men in the choir loft joined in. They helped the young soloist get on key. His voice grew stronger as his confidence increased.

Dr. Childers concluded this was a beautiful picture of what the church is supposed to be. God gave us Christian brothers and sisters to encourage us and to hold us accountable in love.

I was reminded of this again when I recently reread John 20:19-31, the common lectionary gospel text for the Sunday after Easter. This is the story of Jesus appearing to the apostles and showing his scars to Thomas.

We sometimes label this apostle “Doubting Thomas,” but Luke’s version of the story tells us that all the other disciples were terrified and Jesus even asked them, “Why are doubts arising in your hearts?”

These men were gathered together, trying to figure out what they were going to do with their lives now that Jesus was dead. They had given him three years of their lives. They had trusted him and followed him wherever he led. They had assumed he would soon do something to drive out the hated Romans and reestablish the Davidic kingdom. Now all seemed hopeless.

What strikes me about this pericope is how the disciples remained together. While all seemed lost, they didn’t go back home and resume their old way of life. Jesus had created a covenant community and they were committed to one another. They had things to figure out, but they would do it together.

Luke tells us that Jesus showed the disciples his hands and feet. Then he tells us they “were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness.” My Christian bother Ellsworth Kalas says they “shook their heads with happy confusion.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s where I live–in happy confusion. Some folks may have it all figured out, but I don’t. Some folks may never experience doubts, but I do. However, I think I’m in pretty good company. The disciples lived with doubts and changed the world. It seems to me, the only way to live without doubt is to stop thinking.

But there’s something else in this story about disciples with doubts. To live without doubt is to live without the need for others. If the disciples had been convinced they had the answers, they wouldn’t have needed to stay together. They would have likely gone home and returned to their old way of life. But they didn’t. They realized they needed each to make sense of what had happened. They needed each other to go on a frightening journey of spiritual exploration.

I’m personally on a similar journey, and I too need others to go with me. I don’t have the courage nor the wisdom nor the resources needed to travel alone. I certainly don’t have all the answers.

This is why God gave us the church. I haven’t always felt fellow members were doing what they could to encourage me along the way. Sometimes other Christians have been more hindrance than help. My fellow travelers are like me, far from perfect. But still I could never have gotten this far without help and encouragement along the way. My doubts keep me searching, my Christian friends keep me humble, and my accountability partners keep me on the right track. All are necessary in order to keep growing.

QUESTION: Are you honest about your doubts or do you think I have it all wrong about this subject? Who do you have to keep you on the right track? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Dr. Gary Thompson

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I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I write adult curriculum for the United Methodist Church and have been doing so for over 10 years. My passion is helping the Christian Church more effectively fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and to help individuals identify and fulfill their God-given personal mission.

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  • Keith

    I agree that we need each other, but the Bible never, to my knowledge, praises doubt as producing anything good.
    James 1:5-8 (NIV)
    given to him. [6] But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. [7] That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

    • TRUTH REVEALS

      Hey Keith :) PRAISE GOD!
      All we NEED is to TOTALLY * in Faith And in Spirit and in TRUTH * do what Jesus TAUGHT = Believe in HIM

      Jesus said : With Me your everything …. (keyword) without me = Jesus
      YOUR *NOTHING*

  • http://twitter.com/DrGaryT Gary Thompson

    Keith, I doubt (pun intended) that we disagree as much as it might at first appear. I’m probably not saying this very well, but it seems to me that my doubts about my present condition and beliefs is what leads me to question things which in turn leads me to the truth. I would never grow if I didn’t question what I already know. Many people pretty much accept what they have been told by others close to them. Is this what we want a Hindu or someone who grows up in an agnostic family to do? Clear as mud?

  • Ronda Craghead

    I am in agreement with you for we all doubt at time sometime it is more personal then other but we muct en courge one another at all times.

  • Lisa Fulks

    I am a human being & we humans doubt. It takes the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the doubt. Does the Holy Spirit use people to move in & through us, YES!

  • Evidence2Hope

    Doubts are neither good or bad, it’s what you do with them that defines it. If you leave them unchecked, they can and do erode your faith. Doubting things though, stops you believing just anything you’re told. I doubted things and ended up being a Christian. I doubt some of the theology and it keeps me focused on Christ. It’s how you use it

  • TRUTH REVEALS

    @Evidence2Hope All i can TELL YOU! is this ?
    do you DOUBT GOD ?
    And if your ANSWER is YES then GUESS what GOD will LEAVE you with YOUR DOUBT Because 1 thing He GAVE you ( GOD GAVE YOU A FREE WILL TO CHOOSE WHAT YOU WANT ) Jesus TOLD us IN the WORD from GOD DON’T be Deprived From Any One Not EVEN if ( you ) Have to TEST * your own * SPIRIT . But Remember GODS WORD and He Tell Us He CANNOT Be TESTED or TEST anyone
    Not to LEAN on your * OWN * UNDERSTANDING But you * CAN RELY IN AND ON EVERY WORD THAT JESUS BROUGHT TO US FROM HOLY FATHER GOD , CREATOR OF ALL *LIFE* BECAUSE JESUS HAS BEEN WITH HIM BECAUSE THEY ARE 1 GOD :)
    All I’AM saying now to you IN short ****DOUBTING = BAD ***** stop DOUBTING
    and doing MORE on Believing and HOLDING to the WORD (* given *) to US From
    The SON of GOD our LORD & GOD = Jesus Christ = TRUTH = LIFE = The ONLY WAY is THROUGH HIM ONLY ***keyword*** = Live in = Holy Bible = Make your Life in HIS HOLINESS a MAN without SIN = Jesus …..Amen
    PS 1 thing always be careful of People Whom Call there selfs CHRISTIAN that LIVE to this WORLD and Don’t BEAR there CROSS = HOLY BIBLE
    Jesus Called them hypocrites and told them this : YOU WHOM SAY YOU LOVE ME WITH your LIPS ( BUT I CAN SEE *IN YOUR HEART* ) YOU DON’T *DO* WHAT JESUS TOLD ALL THAT FOLLOW HIM TO DO <~ ( DENY YOURSELVES ) DON'T LOVE THIS WORLD THIS WORLD IS SINFUL TO GOD LET GO OF ALL THINGS AND TOTALLY RELY ON THE POWER OF GOD = HIS WORD :)

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  • Bob Freeman

    I’m human. Sometimes, I have doubt but my doubt makes me investigate the subject matter. I have learned that to doubt is human. To learn the truth is bliss. Doubt doesn’t diminish my faith. It spurs me to search the scripture until my doubt has been satisfied with the truth.