Humble Doubts, questions, and skepticism can lead to faith

Humble Doubts, questions, and skepticism can lead to faith

Fr Luke A Veronis

 

Christ is Risen! Christos Anesti! 

How many of us have some doubts mingled with our faith? How about certain skepticism about fundamental tenets of the faith? For example, what questions arise in your mind when thinking of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? Or when we think of bread and wine becoming the holy Body and Blood of Christ? Or what happens when we immerse someone in water in the Mystery of Holy Baptism?

Do you have some doubts, questions, and even skepticism? Some may think that such wrestling implies there’s something wrong with our faith. That it is too weak or feeble. And yet, this isn’t necessarily true. Doubts, questions and even skepticism may simply be stepping stones to a greater faith. And yet they also may be a subtle drifting away from faith. What is the difference and how can we use our doubts, questions, and skepticism to grow in our faith?

Let’s begin with the greatest miracle that we celebrate and highlight in a special way during this 40 day Paschal season. From the day of Pascha, we emphasize that Jesus Christ rising from the dead is the very cornerstone of our Orthodox Christian Faith. Following Jesus isn’t first and foremost about “Do’s and Don’ts,” about obeying some moralistic standards. No, our faith is above all else the Good News that Jesus Christ victoriously rose from the dead and destroyed death itself! We’re talking about the ultimate victory of good over evil, of life over death, of light over darkness, of Christ over Satan. And yet, this miracle of miracles seems quite unbelievable and even impossible.

Of course, in the first century it was a strange teaching that many people couldn’t accept! St. Paul put it most bluntly, however, when he states that if the resurrection isn’t true, then the entire faith in Christ is meaningless! If the resurrection is a fairy tale, then we Christians are the greatest fools of all, because we believe in a lie. If Christ is not risen, then we are all dead in our sins. The Apostle Paul goes on to say, if Christ is not risen, then instead of trying to live a disciplined, Christ-centered life of sacrificial love, grace and mercy, instead we should just eat, drink and be happy. Just enjoy the moment and the day, for there is nothing after death!

Well, many people in our contemporary world have embraced such skepticism and fully embrace a life without resurrection, and thus a life without ultimate meaning. In fact, although some people may grudgingly accept a certain moral value in Christianity, they reject its very foundation – Christ’s Resurrection itself.

Well, doubt and uncertainty certainly existed in the first century. Even the disciples of Jesus found it hard to accept the resurrection as a reality. They witnessed his cruel and terrible death, and couldn’t initially believe in the miracle of resurrection. Maybe this is why the Church dedicates the first Sunday after Pascha to “doubting Thomas,” to the disciple who initially doubted the authenticity of Christ’s Resurrection.

We all know the story in today’s Gospel reading. Last week we heard about Christ’s Resurrection from the dead and His appearing to His disciples in the upper room for the first time. The apostles amazingly looked upon their crucified Lord alive and standing in their midst! They couldn’t believe it, yet their eyes didn’t deceive them. Christ was truly risen and alive!

The disciples rejoiced and were filled with hope. Yet, one of Christ’s followers, Thomas, wasn’t present when He appeared to the others. When his colleagues enthusiastically told Thomas “We have seen the Lord!” he represented skeptics of every future generation when he announced, “Unless I see the mark of nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

“Unless I see… I will not believe.” How many of us can relate with Thomas? We have doubts. We are uncertain and unsure about believing what the Church has taught us.

We may even wonder if it’s ok for a Christian to have such doubts?” Our Lord Jesus did say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!”

Yet, we need to distinguish between the different types of doubt. Certain doubt and questions may lead us to drift away from our faith and from a vibrant relationship with God. Yet, other doubts and questions may actually feed our faith and lead us into a more intimate relationship with our Lord.

If we have doubts or uncertainties, let’s think about the spirit behind our questions and skepticism.

The first doubt that people may experience can be called ARROGANT DOUBT. This doubt finds its roots in our ego and pride. We don’t want to believe because we think that we are above such foolish faith. We know more than the Church. Its faith is antiquated and out of touch with modernity. Over the past several centuries, especially since the Enlightenment Period, much of the Western world has wrestled with such arrogant and rebellious doubt. Many so-called great thinkers of this age simply don’t want to believe in the Resurrection, or in the idea of an Almighty God who works outside of our human logic and reason. Such thinkers find it hard to accept anything greater than the human mind. Such “enlightened” people prefer to consider themselves gods, and thus, reject anything that doesn’t fit into their human logic. Such arrogant doubt sees NO VALUE in faith or in any spiritual journey.

A second type of doubt we may call WAVERING DOUBT. Surely uncertainty comes to us in moments of weakness. We don’t want to doubt, but we may allow different thoughts to enter our minds during moments of temptation and weakness, and we may not be too sure of what truth is. In moments like this, we express doubt in issues of faith. This doubt has value only in reminding us of what weak creatures we are, and how the devil continually used temptation to lead us astray. We should address such wavering doubt in humility, guarding our minds and hearts while seeking answers from God. Questions and doubt aren’t bad, as long as we sincerely seek out the answers. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Christ offers truth, absolute truth. The question is whether we will take the time and make the effort to seek after ultimate Truth, or simply accept the skepticism and cynicism of modern humanity.

The third type of doubt we may name HUMBLE DOUBT. This doubt comes to someone who is uncertain. They may simply state the obvious – for example a belief in someone resurrecting from the dead seems impossible! And yet, while admitting this logic, they are still open to be proven wrong. They humbly remain open to a faith that works outside the human perspective. They realize that, ultimately, God is a Mystery who can do anything He wants and thus, they remain open to God’s Holy Spirit. Yes, we may not be sure, but are we humble enough to learn, and to be corrected? In fact, such humble doubt can lead us to learn something new and grow in their faith?

 In today’s Gospel story, the Apostle Thomas’ doubt was surely the third type - an honest doubt. He questioned the truth of Christ’s Resurrection because he witnessed His gruesome death. Even though Thomas saw Jesus raise a child who had died, and then raise the widow’s son in his funeral procession, and then even raise up His friend Lazarus who was in the tomb for four days, still he found it difficult to believe that Jesus resurrected on the third day! Yet, he remained open to being proven wrong. In fact, he wanted to be proven wrong. Remember, honest doubt can play an important role in increasing our faith! True faith rarely comes without questions, without struggles, without a sincere search and longing for truth. Honest doubt teaches us to stay humble, to learn and to grow. Without questions, we remain babies in our faith.

The significance of St. Thomas’ doubt was that he remained open to God, and immediately changed his beliefs when encountering the Risen Lord Jesus. Thomas didn’t accept the witness of his friends, yet when he saw the Christ alive a week later, he immediately believed and made the great profession of faith, “My Lord and My God!” His honest doubt opened the door to an increased faith, which led him to see Jesus not only as his Master and teacher but even as his Lord and God!

This revelation and renewed faith led the Apostle Thomas to travel as far as India in order to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. Obviously, St. Thomas’ sincere and honest doubt of initially not believing Jesus alive changed into such a faith that he would travel thousands of miles in order to obey Christ and go forth to all nations.

So, let us think about our own doubts and questions. What can we say about the doubts we harbor in our own hearts and minds? The central question we all must ask ourselves is this: “Am I sincerely and earnestly searching for answers to my questions and doubts, or have I remained content with my skepticism and cynicism of faith? If I have doubts, am I willing to seek to understand my faith at a deeper level.

The Orthodox Christian faith is unapologetic about its claims of the absolute and eternal Truth found only in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Every sincere Christian, until his/her dying day, will remain a sojourner in this pursuit of absolute  and eternal Truth. None of us can ever understand everything, and surely doubts will arise in our hearts from time to time. Yet on this 2nd Sunday of Pascha, we remember how St. Thomas reminds us to keep journeying from doubt to faith, from ignorance to deeper knowledge, from uncertainty to eternal truth. The ultimate answers to life’s central questions exist in Jesus Christ and within our Orthodox Christian worldview and faith.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be scared of the doubts lurking in your heart. Be sincere and honest with your doubts and questions – are they arrogant doubts, are they wavering doubts, or are they humble doubts. Use these humble doubts to push you to seek and look for the answers that the Risen Christ offers. In this way, our faith will increase and we also will come to the point of saying, “My Lord and my God.”

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

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