The celebration of Easter in the Church is 50 days beginning with the Resurrection and concluding with the Holy Spirit poured out onto the people at Pentecost. This Easter season recounts the post-Resurrection accounts of Jesus the Christ, our Risen Lord.
The morning of the Resurrection emphasizes Mary Magdalene and additional women arriving at the tomb of Jesus the Christ to anoint his body per custom. These women were expecting to encounter his corpus, but instead are greeted by the Risen Lord. He commissions them to bear witness to and share the good news of his resurrection with the others, including the inner-most circle of the eleven disciples.
These other disciples, except Thomas, are fearfully hidden in a dark room behind locked doors. These other disciples did not believe these witnesses of the Risen Lord until Christ appeared within their dark room. These disciples share their experience with Thomas, who similarly does not believe them.
We always wrestle with doubt and its relationship to faith the first Sunday after the Resurrection through the narrative of “doubting” Thomas. But, who is this “doubting” Thomas?
In the biblical account, Thomas was a straight-shooting realist (Jn. 11:16) seeking to understand through his inquisitive nature (Jn. 14:5). This is reinforced through his skepticism or doubt/faithlessness and has immortalized him forever as “doubting” Thomas (Jn. 20: 19-29).
Upon encountering the Risen Lord, Thomas proclaims “my Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). The response of Christ included “do not [continue to] doubt but believe” (Jn. 20:27 NRSV my edit). However, this passage could be more accurately translated as “do not [become] faithless but believe”.
“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; doubt is an element of faith.”
-Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith (1957)
As Tillich argued, doubt is not equal to faithlessness. Perhaps, Thomas’ “doubt” was a necessary and dynamic element of his faith journey calling him more deeply into relationship with the divine through his skepticism and inquisitive nature.
As a straight-shooting, skeptical, and inquisitive realist, I have a connection to Thomas. Similar to Tillich, I firmly hold that doubt is an element of faith; however, it is not merely an element but it is the necessary element for a living, dynamic faith that seeks to go deeper to spout forth stronger.
May we embrace Thomas and his example of “doubt” to grow deeper and spout forth in a stronger faith lived in relationship with God and neighbor. Amen.
Originally published in the May 2017 Newsletter of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Kelso WA.
If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy the sermon summary “Doubt? Ask and Seek“.