Can 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.