Re-posted here with permission. I love Fr. Luke’s distinctions of the various kinds of doubt.
Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! As Orthodox Christians, we not only proclaim this fact, but emphasize that Christ’s Resurrection is the very cornerstone of Christianity. Our faith isn’t first and foremost about “Do’s and Don’ts,” about some moralistic standards. No, our faith is first and foremost about Christ victoriously rising from the dead, and destroying death itself! We’re talking about the ultimate victory of good over evil, of life over death, of Christ over Satan.
St. Paul put it most bluntly, when he states that if the resurrection isn’t true, then our faith 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 love, we should just eat, drink and be happy. Just enjoy the moment and the day, for there is nothing after death!
Many people in our modern, technological world of skepticism fully embrace a life without resurrection, and thus a life without ultimate meaning. In fact, although people may grudgingly accept some moral value in Christianity, they reject our foundation – Christ’s Resurrection itself. We even have so-called enlightened people who claim to be Christians themselves, but whose ultra liberal views totally deny the actual Resurrection of Jesus.
Well, doubt and uncertainty existed during Christ’s time as well. The disciples of Jesus didn’t accept the resurrection immediately. They witnessed his cruel and terrible death, and couldn’t initially believe in any resurrection. Yet, we have to understand that there are different types of doubt. Maybe this is why the Church dedicates the 1st Sunday after Easter to “doubting Thomas,” to the disciple who initially doubted Christ’s Resurrection.
We all know the story in today’s Gospel reading. Last week we heard about Christ’s Resurrection, we heard how Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room for the first time. The apostles stood amazed looking at their Risen Lord. They couldn’t believe it, yet their eyes didn’t deceive them. Christ was truly risen!
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? How many of us also have uncertainties and concrete doubts? Maybe we even need to ask, “Is it ok for a Christian to have such doubts?” Our Lord Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!”
Well, this Sunday of Thomas reminds us of an important lesson about the doubts that linger in our minds. Doubt may surely be a part of our journey of faith, yet we have to ask ourselves, what type of doubt to we harbor?
The first doubt that many people can experience we may call REBELLIOUS 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. Modern humanity over the past several centuries, especially since the Enlightenment Period, has wrestled with this 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, or really in the thought of 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 rebellious doubt has NO VALUE in one’s 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 HONEST DOUBT. This doubt comes to someone who is uncertain, yet who admits that he/she may not have examined every side of the argument. Although this person expresses doubt, they still remain open to being proved wrong. They remain open to faith. They remain open to God’s Holy Spirit. Yes, we may not be sure, but are we humble enough to learn, or to be corrected? In fact, do we hunger and desire to learn something new and grow in their faith?
In today’s story, the Apostle Thomas’ doubt was surely the third type – an honest doubt. He questioned the truth of Christ’s Resurrection because he saw the gruesome death. Yet, he stayed open to being proved 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 proven wrong. Thomas didn’t accept the witness of his friends, yet when he saw the Risen Christ 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 his Master and teacher as his Lord and God!
This revelation and renewed faith led the Apostle Thomas to travel as far as India in proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection. Obviously, St. Thomas’ sincere and honest doubt led him to greater heights of faith.
Can we say the same 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 join our new Orthodox 201 class, which will begin Thursday evening, April 30, and seek to understand my faith at a deeper level.
The Orthodox Christian faith is unapologetic about its claims of absolute truth found in Jesus Christ. Every sincere Christian, until his/her dying day, must remain a sojourner in this pursuit of absolute truth. No one understands everything, and surely doubts will arise in our hearts from time to time, but today St. Thomas reminds us to keep journeying from doubt to faith, from ignorance to knowledge, from uncertainty to 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 or to address the doubts lurking in your heart. Be sincere and honest with your doubts and questions, but be even more sincere and honest in your pursuit for answers! 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!