A View of Faith

A View of Faith

It’s pretty easy for
us to slam Thomas for his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. Thomas had seen
the wonders of Jesus’ miracles, including three instances when Jesus had
brought someone back from the dead. Maybe he thought that while Jesus could do
that for others, He wouldn’t be able to do that for Himself, being God or not
being God.

The fact is,
though, Thomas was a pretty lucky guy—a blessed guy, even with his doubts. He
didn’t hide his skepticism or just go along with the crowd to be agreeable. He
clearly states that, unless he sees Jesus for himself, he isn’t going to accept
the resurrection. Thomas is very fortunate, because Jesus wasn’t done making
post-resurrection appearances.

If his faith and
ultimately his salvation and eternal life were dependent upon his seeing the
Lord raised from the dead, then he’s incredibly blessed. How tragic for Thomas
if the Lord did not return to that Upper Room a second time, and he had been
left in his unbelief.

But thankfully,
Thomas’ doubts fit with the Lord’s plan. In his coming to belief once more, we
are also blessed to have John’s account of this additional appearance, so that
our faith might be strengthened, too. Jesus comes back the week following His
initial resurrection appearance. He knows Thomas had expressed his doubts, and
he calls Thomas forward. “Touch me and see I am real,” Jesus challenges. Yes,
Thomas is one lucky man.

We aren’t quite so
fortunate in that regard. Nor were those in the early church who were brought
to faith by the teachings and writings of the apostles, including those who
heard this account from John’s Gospel. Nor have generations and generations of
Christians since been so lucky as to see Jesus so clearly and prominently—the
crucified Christ, alive and well.

No Christian since
the apostolic time has expected Jesus to return in the manner which these disciples
saw Him, for it is His teaching that when He returns again, it will be in the
full glory of God for the judgment of the world. We trust, though, that the
witness of these apostles and evangelists are true. We follow in faith, and
communicate that same truth to our children and to all: That the Lord did rise
again and show Himself to these early believers. Upon this truth rests the
confidence and hope of the Christian faith; without it, everything about it is

John’s account of
this episode is not written for Thomas’ benefit—at least not for the benefit of
his faith. And just as certainly, it wasn’t written to shore up Thomas
reputation. The Gospels aren’t afraid to paint the disciples in a negative
light when showing the reliability of the written record.

John instead
records these events for those—like us—who have not seen, and yet must believe.
By it, we can be led to take Jesus at His word, and trust that He has indeed
risen from the dead. We don’t have to experience those doubts like Thomas, but
instead can take comfort and have confidence.

But we do
experience doubt, don’t we? Even though this story, including the words of
Jesus that “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe,” is often
used to encourage and even chastise those whose faith might be wavering, I’m
not sure that’s such a good idea in every case. Of course faith is good. Likewise
doubt, a lack of faith, is bad. It’s even condemning, if we are left in such a

Yet, even though
we didn’t have the experience of seeing Jesus risen from the dead, we must
believe anyway. If not, then we are expressing doubt about our own eternal
life, and questioning the declarations of Jesus Himself. It would be hypocrisy
for us to confess our faith in Christ, and yet hide the fact that we still may
have some doubts from time to time. We might be embarrassed to admit this, but
it is a sin we must confess and repent of like any other. There is nothing to
be gained by hiding our quiet doubts, no merit in lying about it.

The reality is: Most
people in the world today, particularly in advanced cultures where so much
depends on science and technology and the proof of data and observable results,
are doubters at heart. We’re very much like Thomas. You’ve heard others say,
and we’ve said it ourselves: “You have to see this to believe it.”

There’s certainly
still a place in theology and in the work of the Church for what’s known as “apologetics”—the
art of constructing a line of reasonable argument to convince people that there
is evidence which supports the teachings of the Christian faith.

What’s missing
from apologetics, though, is the simple fact that reason, debate, and evidence
is never going to create faith. Faith itself requires trust in that which is
at its essence unbelievable to fallen humanity. Faith can arise only where
God’s work through Word and Sacrament overcomes our fallen nature, and injects
the seeds of faith and makes them grow according to His good pleasure. Only
when one has faith can he or she then begin to intellectually come to grips
with the evidence which the Scriptures and other useful Christian writings
provide about God and His plan of grace and mercy.

Several years ago,
a wealthy man offered a very large monetary reward to anyone who could provide
him irrefutable proof of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews and others in the
days before and during World War II. It was not a problem to bring forth many,
many eyewitnesses to these atrocities, some of them even survivors of the
horrors of the death camps. Likewise, photographs taken by the Nazis
themselves, and by Allied troops and independent journalists in the days and
weeks following the liberation of these camps, were plentiful.

Even so, the rich
man rejected this evidence. He claimed the eyewitnesses and survivors were
liars involved in a mass conspiracy. The photos, easily faked, he said. No
matter what, he rejected the evidence as unacceptable. No one who has closed
his or her mind to an idea can accept proof to the contrary, because
impartiality has been lost.

You and I aren’t
impartial, either. Plenty of times, we don’t trust what we see or hear or read
in the world around us, even when others do. The fact is: We pick and choose
evidence selectively to demonstrate the point we want to make, or arrive at the
conclusion we want to reach. We’re skeptical or rejecting of everything else. There’s
good reason for that, of course. We have learned that politicians and reporters,
business leaders, educators, even family members, often play loose and fast
with the truth. We discover time and again that reality is often a great deal
different from what we’re told.

Without a fair
degree of suspicion and even skepticism, we may be betrayed by our political
leaders on both sides of the aisle, hoodwinked by the financial advisors to
whom we entrust our investments, and even convince ourselves that our own
children couldn’t possibly be disruptive or irresponsible at school. So, a
questioning attitude isn’t always bad, properly directed.

It’s quite a bit
different in the realm of faith, however. In faith, doubt is the enemy, isn’t
it? What, then, should we do? Is it possible to be confident and sure when
confessing Christ crucified and resurrected, especially in a world when even
truth itself isn’t the same thing to all people? Can we be sure and certain of
anything? How?

If we insist on
having all our questions answered, all doubt driven away, then we are becoming
slaves not of truth, but of certainty. There are both truths and untruths that
can’t be proven, given our human limitations. Like Thomas, if we insist on
proof of every truth of the Christian message, we are not exercising faith, we
are exercising blasphemy. We are calling God on the carpet and demanding He
show Himself to us in a manner in which we’ll be satisfied. Where is the faith
in that? Where is the trust? If Christianity were perfectly provable, why would
there be a constellation of false faiths orbiting around it, all of them
teaching and promoting greater or lesser error?

It’s important to
remember that doubt and faith are not opposites. It’s more accurate to say
that the opposite of faith in God is not doubt, but faith in something else.
It’s that constant danger of having any other god, large or small, ahead of Him.
Often doubt becomes a waypoint on the journey to a still-deeper faith. Doubt
is an element, perhaps even an essential one, which serves as a catalyst to
shape our faith, to make it react in a certain way.

You may have had
the experience yourself where, after a period of wrestling with doubts and
fears about your faith and your salvation—about your very relationship with
your loving and merciful God—you’ve emerged with a deeper, stronger, and more
resilient faith. By asking yourself the tough questions, and seeking the
answers God has given you in His Word, you may be led to a new openness to His
will for your life.

So, you need not
run away from doubt in fear and frustration. As I said last week, if you worry
that you’ve lost your faith, it’s a very good indication that you haven’t lost
your faith. Don’t flee from doubt, but understand that it very likely is an
indication that the devil so fears your relationship with the Father of
goodness and life that he wishes to work particularly hard on prying you away
from God.

We wrestle with
doubts because our limited minds cannot fathom all the wonders and mysteries of
God. How can we comprehend the resurrection, for example? Thomas couldn’t,
and neither can we, having not witnessed it. We can imagine it, we can by
God’s grace believe it, but we cannot comprehend it.

Can you imagine
that a perfect, holy, eternal God can love and specifically provide for and
care for someone like you—a flawed, sinful, insignificant, and fleeting
creature of the flesh?

Neither can I, and
when I begin to think I understand that, and especially when I think I might
actually deserve that, I must repent, and so should you. How can he forgive
you, forgive me, for all we have done and continue to do to harm our neighbor and
to reject God’s will? We have nothing of worth to God, yet He values us
infinitely—enough to trade His own dear, perfect Son’s life for yours. Can you
comprehend that?

Martin Luther has
intense doubts throughout his life—about himself, about his work, about the
nature and work of God. Yet all his torments and the wrestlings of his
faith—his “tentatio”—shaped him into a stronger and better servant of Christ
and his neighbor. Even doubt can be a gift from God, if He uses it to shape us
and open us to deeper faith.

Locked away in the
fear of our own personal Upper Rooms, the resurrected Christ comes to us. Fear
is driven out, hearts are opened. He shows us Himself—wounded and pierced,
dead yet made alive. Into flawed vessels He breathes the Holy Spirit and dispatches
each of us to bring His message of salvation to people near and far. We
wouldn’t think of faith on our own, much less live it. We are too fearful; we
would hide like the disciples from an angry and dangerous world. But Jesus has
work for us outside our safe little sanctuaries.

Doubt and faith
might seem to be incompatible things, contradictions, even. Yet God doesn’t
try to rescue us from every little conflict we face in our lives, does He?
Sometimes He even uses them to test us and strengthen us, and lets us wrestle
with concepts that are difficult and confusing.

Think of them: A
Savior both God and man; Christ both with us and in heaven; God one in three
and three in one; water that kills and makes alive; body and blood and forgiveness
and eternal life in ordinary bread and wine.

If we want to
eliminate doubts and have a neat and clean, easily understood God, is that a
God worthwhile having? Or would it be better to have a God far deeper and
broader and much more incomprehensible than that? If a stone tomb cannot hold
your God within it; if the entire world cannot contain His glory, then how can
our minds restrict His love?

We will never be
able to fathom even a little bit of our infinite God. Easter opens to us and
to our imaginations a whole new world of possibilities, because the
resurrection has changed everything—everything but God. He alone comprehended
our whole world, even before the beginning of time.

In Easter, we find
that God is still full of new and creative surprises, and He will continue to
enlighten us with them as we confront Him in His Word. As His disciples, we,
too, share in the creative imagination of God, and are given the task of
conveying its wonder and love to others.

God is not
finished with us, nor with any part of humanity. Though many generations have
come and gone since the resurrection of Jesus, in each one has there been a
faithful fragment which has carried forth the message that He who died and rose
again still lives, and continues to provide life anew to all who trust and
believe in His name. Through us, God makes Himself known in Christ to others.
He lives eternally, and He is therefore in stark contrast to the relentless
tide of death and decay the world constantly shovels against. God desires that
all people have the abundant and eternal life that is ours in Christ. It is
our present possession, and is inexhaustible, no matter how often or how much
we share it with others.

Our faith in
Christ’s atoning death and glorious resurrection allows us to live a rich and
abundant life, in spite of the doubts we will continually face. We see the
continual and unchanging love of our Creator as He sends the renewal of life to
us each spring, and in each new child He brings into the world. He is here
among us, active and fresh. Knowing that, we see His fingerprints in all that
is good.

But it is not our
seeing that gives us faith; rather, it is our faith that enables us to see the
hand of God at work in our lives, our minds, and our hearts. That faith helps
us to see more clearly the risen Lord, and to point others to His cross, His empty
tomb, and to His saving font and His forgiving meal. May these truly be
sources of life abundant—for you, for me, and for all those He reaches through
us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.