The gospel appointed for the Second Sunday in Easter is the same every year. It’s St. John’s account of how St. Thomas was not present to see the risen Christ on Easter Day and as a result refused to believe in the reality of the resurrection. Jesus then reappeared to the gathered disciples and this time St. Thomas was there. Thomas, upon seeing Jesus, exclaims “My Lord and My God!” This is the first explicit identification of Jesus as something more than a human Messiah.) Jesus proclaims that though Thomas has believed because he has seen Christ directly, those who believe without having a personal encounter with the risen Lord are blessed because they have believed by faith.
Hopefully you recognize the story. You probably have heard the saying “We are saved by faith in Jesus” as well. We know about the importance of faith. But we don’t always take time to think about what “having faith” actually means.
Faith is the belief in things unseen. But is more than that. The faith that Jesus speaks of is more than simple belief in the fact of the resurrection. It is really a willingness to trust in that fact and to trust that because of the resurrection we too shall live with God in eternity.
But what exactly is the opposite of that faith?
Most people tend to respond that the opposite of faith is doubt. If we doubt in the resurrection then it would appear to follow that we can not believe in its reality and therefore can not participate in its benefits. But the problem with this typical answer is that doubt can not be the opposite of faith. Doubt is actually what makes faith possible.
As author Anne Lamott recently said in an article entitled God Doesn’t Take Sides, “The opposite of faith is not doubt. It is certainty.” St. Thomas had no need of faith. He saw the Jesus risen from the grave. He knew that Jesus lived. He realized what Jesus’ life meant. But he didn’t believe. He had certainty.
I do not have that certainty. Though I have encountered the power of the Risen Christ, I have never seen Jesus with my own eyes. I have never heard his voice with my ears. I have never been able to directly touch his hands. Because of all this I can not say with certainty that I know Christ is alive. But I believe it. I trust in it.
I trust that Jesus lives because, while not seeing it directly, I have seen the effects of the resurrection in the lives of the people I know. I have seen the power of Christ’s resurrection to change lives for the better. I have reason for my belief, but I still do not have certainty. (There could be other explanations for what I have experienced in others.) However, I choose to believe in Jesus. But belief allows for the possibility of doubt in a way that certainty can not.
This is reassuring because though I believe and have staked my life on that belief, I find that I still doubt at times. Questions still arise about the reality of the resurrection. There are many voices out there that have pointed out logical inconsistencies in the teaching of the Church. And I have seen the power of evil so great that I find myself wondering if good can overcome it. And yet I believe. The doubts are, in a subtle way, what makes my belief possible.
If I didn’t doubt then I would know. And if I knew than I would not need belief. But that is not what Jesus seems to want for me, or for the vast majority of us. Why God has asked us to live by faith and not by knowledge is a very deep question and one for which I have no answer. But I know that the answer to that question, whatever it may be, will open for us a profound insight into the nature of the relationship between the human and the divine.
Rather than seeking to stamp down my doubts, I choose instead to spend a great deal of time talking with God about why God wants our faith and not our certainty. I’ll let you know if God tells me anything…
May you have a blessed Easter season.