Dealing with doubt is a fundamental fact of human existence -- a fact for Christians, even for Apostles, no less than for unbelievers. The classic doubter is Thomas -- as we see in today's Gospel reading. He was the one who was skeptical when the other disciples told him that the risen Christ had appeared to them. He was the one who looked them in the eye and said bluntly, "Unless I see the mark of the nail in his hands and unless I put my finger in the place where the nails were, and my hand in his side, I will not believe it."
Doubting Thomas. These words form a negative image in our culture. Nearly everyone is hard on Thomas. As a result, many of us have grown up thinking that it is not good to be a doubter. We reason, "Thomas must surely have been one of the least of the Apostles because of his doubting, because of his hesitancy to believe."
But maybe that is not the whole story.
When the risen Christ again returned and Thomas was there, Christ did not criticize or belittle him for his doubts. Rather, he affirmed Thomas in his doubting, and helped him move beyond it to faith. He understood Thomas' initial skepticism.
Perhaps Christ was saying to Thomas: "Doubting is nothing to be ashamed of. Doubting is okay. Doubting is a part of life."
This is true for us. Having doubts about our faith, or about anything, is nothing, in itself, to be ashamed of, or to be escaped or hidden from. For us, in our uncertainties, Thomas can be the patron saint. Thomas is one who can give us courage to face our doubts.
Despite what we may hear from radio preachers, we don' t need always to be sure about everything. God does not require us to be doubt-free. God is calling us to be people who will stop to listen, to question, to learn, to grow. God is calling us to be people who know our need continually to acknowledge and discover what it is that we don t know. That means that God is calling us to face our doubts, honestly and openly. We need to have courage and good sense enough to understand and deal with our uncertainties and doubts.
I do not mean, by this, the kind of cynical disbelief in everyone and everything that some people seem to have. But I do mean the inner-directed kind of doubt that makes us aware of our own limitations and keeps us on the path of discovery-the journey of faith in Christ.
What I mean is that in Jesus' encounter with Thomas, there is an implication that having no doubts can be harmful. The firmness with which a person holds to a belief is not a reliable guide to its correctness. A passion of belief can disguise the truth as surely as it can lead to the truth.
Thomas had the courage to doubt and not try to hide it or be ashamed of it. He tested the truth of what he had been told. He did not let his doubting stop him. He used it to discover the true meaning of the Risen Christ in his life. He did this so he would not have to believe what he did not know, so he could believe in his own, unique way of believing.
In a similar way we can make positive use of our doubts. In no way should we simply ignore our doubts or sweep them under the carpet. We should examine them and let that examination help lead us to a deeper and stronger and more lasting faith.
Times of doubt do come and will come for all of us-as they came for Thomas. The Good News is that doubting can become positive and helpful. As growth can come through pain, so faith can come through doubt. Like Thomas, we are called to move through times of doubt to moments of decision. And if we have been honest in our doubts, our decisions of faith that come after will be more honest and firmer and more certain-the more committed we will be as we move along our journeys of faith. Faith is never based on a totally blind decision, but it is something reached by a process that moves beyond emotional connection. It is reached by reason and a search that often includes doubt.
My prayer is that each of us Christians may have the courage to face our doubts so that we may, at last, come to the decision of our faith-like the decision reached by Thomas. And that we may each reach anew the decision that Jesus is indeed the Risen Lord, and that this truth may be actively affirmed in our lives, renewing and transforming us into the Easter people God intends us to be.