A story that’s often told in churches on the Sunday after Easter is the story of “Doubting Thomas” from John 20:24-29. This poor guy gets a really bad rap. Earlier in the gospel, Thomas has been willing to follow Jesus even into great danger (John 11:7-16). Thomas is also the one who will ask the question that everyone else is afraid to ask (John 14:1-7). An admirable character the whole way through, until this moment when he gets a label: Doubting Thomas. What does he do to deserve this? He is honest. He admits what we all feel, which is that it’s tough to accept something for which we have no tangible evidence. The rest of Jesus’ disciples have already had an encounter with the risen Christ where they could see him and talk to him, but Thomas missed it. And he’s honest enough to say that without that experience, it’s hard to trust in the reality of resurrection.
What Thomas says is “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not trust.” Which, in my opinion, is what a lot of people would say. Those of us who feel the same can take comfort in the fact that when Jesus does show up, he doesn’t shame Thomas. In fact, Jesus doesn’t actually say “Don’t doubt.” He says, “Be not mistrusting,” which is awkward in English, but significant. “Doubt” and “trust” are verbs. And what Jesus does is not tell Thomas to do something (a verb) but instead to be something (an adjective).
Maybe you think I’m splitting grammatical hairs, but I think this matters. Untold numbers of people have been put off by the church because they were told that they weren’t allowed to doubt, that doubting was bad. The problem with that is everyone doubts! The most revered characters in the Bible doubt! Jesus doesn’t tell us not to doubt. Instead, he urges us to keep trusting. And trust is a process, the result of a healthily growing relationship. Trust can grow and shrink, depending on what happens in the relationship. But ultimately, trust is always a choice. It is, as the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard famously said, “the leap to faith” — “to faith,” not “of faith.” Jesus invites Thomas and us to make the leap: the choice to keep trusting.
There is room for doubt in the Christian life. There is room for honest questions, exploration and comparisons. If anyone is worthy of blind trust, it would be God, but I don’t think God asks for our blind trust. Instead, God speaks to us in myriad ways in the world. God responds (not always the way we want). God shows up (not always when we want). But God is alive and present with us and as we pay attention to that, we choose to trust more and more. At the end of the gospel of John, Jesus invites Thomas to remember the relationship they have, one in which trust has already been built. The invitation is the same for us. When life is hard, when things don’t make sense, when Jesus seems absent, we are invited to look back on what has already happened in the past, remember the relationship, and then choose to trust that resurrection means something good is always possible.
Rev. Beth Gedert is the pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, an LGBTQ-affirming congregation committed to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. You can reach her by email at [email protected]