The Easter story continues today a after the resurrection when the disciples, we are told for fear of the Jews, have locked themselves in an upper room. It is here that Jesus suddenly appears to them. When Thomas hears of this upon his return he, of course, has a hard time believing the disciples. A week later Jesus appears again so that Thomas might believe, and so he does, by touching the risen lord with his own hands and seeing him with his own eyes . . . and so ‘doubting Thomas’ became ‘believing Thomas’.
You must know by now that doubt is a part of life. It is taught to us from an early age. At some point someone tells us a lie, perhaps for a good reason. But once we discover that we had been lied to, the seeds of doubt are planted in us . . . forever. And the seeds of doubt grow and can become a chokehold on our life. The next time that same person told us something we questioned whether it was true: and so we doubted.
Doubt is necessary for survival in this world. If we believed everything we were told, we would soon be in trouble. So if someone tells us their product is better than another we question their word. If the government tells us it will do something to help us, we question its motives. We have all been lied to, and so out of self-defense we distrust; and we doubt.
Doubt may be necessary in this world, but it can be dangerous. Doubt may save us from believing a lie, but it can also keep us from believing in the truth. How many times has a person in a bad situation been told, “Take my hand; I can help you. Trust me.” And because they doubted, they perished. But worst of all, doubt about spiritual things can challenge us emotionally. A person who doesn’t know what to believe about God is like one who is alone and lost. Doubt can grow to become a whirlpool that threatens to pull a person under and drown him in fear.
The prime example of doubt in the Bible is of course Thomas in the Gospel lesson this morning. We often call him “Doubting Thomas,” but he is no different from us. We all have doubts as he did . . . and under the same circumstances, we would probably doubt as well. He had been gone from the room when Jesus appeared, and he did not see him the first time. So when he came back everyone was excited and they were saying that Jesus was alive.
We need to consider this from Thomas’ point of view. He had seen Jesus crucified. The Romans had nailed him to a cross. And then . . . a day or two later the women and then the rest were saying that Jesus was alive. The physical evidence was pretty clear. Jesus had died. He was pronounced dead and he was dead and buried. It was obvious to Thomas that the disciples were the victims of some kind of group hysteria. Their grief had driven first the women and then the men into the delusion that Jesus was still alive.
We really can’t blame Thomas for doubting the resurrection. The other disciples had doubted too, before they saw Jesus for themselves. Under the same circumstances, I think that to doubt would be natural. When someone tells us something that is totally unbelievable, no matter how much we normally trust that person, we will doubt. We should not blame Thomas for doubting. Instead we should acknowledge that we are more like him than we want to admit. And then we should try to learn from him.
I myself have a special kinship with “Doubting Thomas.” I too have doubted the existence of God. In my second year of college I was working two part-time jobs and going to school full time. The stress of it all was apparently too much for me and I contracted hepatitis A, which is a sometimes fatal liver disease. All my hopes and dreams for the future suddenly came crashing down on me as I lay in quarantine on my bed in horrible pain for nearly six months. I went through all the trauma of distress . . . from depression, confusion and self doubt, to anger, thoughts of suicide and finally giving up my life to fate.
In the beginning of my distress I prayed every day for a miracle that would get me out of that bed and back to my normal life. Near the middle, I began to have the fear that God had abandoned me and so I stopped praying. Near the end I abandoned God because I began to doubt that he existed at all . . . until one night, at the height of the pain, when all hope was lost, I called out for Jesus to save me. Suddenly my room became blinding bright and I felt a warmth and peace that gently swept over me from head to toe. There was also an incredible sound or rush of music like a million instruments playing a million notes all at the same time that I will never forget. When it was over, I knew that the Spirit of God had come upon me and that I had been healed. A few weeks later, except for my yellow stained skin, it was as if nothing had even happened at all. My liver was back functioning and the pain was totally gone. Because of this, my faith became unshakable because I had come to believe with certainty. God had graciously taken my doubt and had turned it into belief.
We call him “Doubting Thomas,” but doubt is only half of his story. The other half of the story is that Thomas finally came to believe as well. A week after Jesus appeared to the other Apostles he appeared to Thomas. Jesus obviously came just for Thomas’ benefit. He came to give Thomas the proof he thought he needed to believe. And in the end Thomas said, “My Lord and My God.” Doubting Thomas had doubted that Jesus was even alive. But Jesus came and changed Thomas and in the end “Believing Thomas” confessed that Jesus was God. God had taken this prime example of doubt and turned him into an example of belief.
We are all doubting Thomas-es. We all doubt, especially about religion. Perhaps we doubt that we are saved. “Do I trust enough? Was I baptized the right way? Is my faith strong enough or is there something I still need to do?” Perhaps we doubt the Bible or the way people interpret it. And we think, “Maybe God really isn’t very loving. Maybe someone made it all up. Maybe there is no God.” Or maybe like Thomas we doubt the resurrection. “Maybe Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Maybe he was just a good man who is dead.” And sometimes we may find the things some preachers say that make our doubts even worse.
We learn two very important things about doubt from “Doubting Thomas” and “Believing Thomas.” First of all, doubt is part of the human condition. Don’t blame Thomas or yourself for doubting. We all doubt and at times doubt is necessary. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for doubting, nor does he condemn you. Second, God can turn doubt into belief. God took Thomas, the prime example of doubt, and turned him into a prime example of belief. He did the same thing for me . . . and he can do the same thing for you.
Finally, I would suggest to you that doubt is necessary to life. Without it we would believe every lie that people tell us. But we mustn’t let doubt rob us of the true joy that God is able to offer us at Eastertide. Jesus appeared to Thomas to take his doubt away. And he ministered to me to give me healing, faith and peace when I needed it most. When we doubt, we must acknowledge that doubt, and give it to God, because God, can and will, take the turmoil of doubt and transform it into the peace of faith. God took “Doubting Thomas” and transformed him into “Believing Thomas,” and God can do the same for all of us.
Eastertide teaches us that dying on a cross and going to hell was the last redemptive act of Christ’s ministry on earth. He didn’t go there because he wanted to, he went there because he had to, he went there to unlock the prison of hell and to lead all those who were bound there out of that place. To share with him, in his Easter resurrection. He came here to earth not only to save those who were living then and those of us who would be born in the future, but also to save those who had lived and died before he came. And he did it all by willingly taking up his cross on our behalf. This is what makes Easter so exciting and so mysterious at the same time. That God was willing to come, to take on our humanity, to live and die as one of us all so that we could be delivered from the distress of our sin and walk into heaven as the redeemed and blessed of God. Amen