June 6, 1944 is a date most of the people in this country will remember, the D Day invasion. Being a history geek (among others kinds of geek), I’m amazed every time I walk around everything that was happening that day. It’s wasn’t a sure thing, and a lot of things had to line up for the invasion to work as well as it did: planning, deception of the enemy, weather, and plain dumb luck that Rommel was away that day. What fascinates me is that General Eisenhower had a letter prepared in case the invasion didn’t work, titled “In case of failure”. He took responsibility for what happened, and it was a pattern of his every time he launched an invasion. Doubt was always on his mind, even when he was totally focused on success.
“Doubting Thomas” is a term that has taken on a little bit of a bad rep over the years. I think it might be because Thomas is the disciple from Missouri. We tend to save that term for someone difficult to convince beyond the point of reason. Doubting Thomas’ loyalty is usually questioned, his faith is certainly questioned, and most folks don’t want to have a Doubting Thomas around. Tends to lower morale, makes people a bit shaky when they need to be solid.
As we look at today’s Gospel reading, Thomas’ doubt isn’t all that unrealistic, given the context. After all, who’s been raised from the dead before? Thomas has been with the group all the way from the beginning, he isn’t credited with many questions nor has he been up to as much as some of the other disciples, but he’s been there for the entire trip. Jesus has taught his disciples to question and to slow to convince about people pretending to act in God’s name. Thomas reflects an attitude that most of us would probably have if we were in his shoes.
What’s interesting to me is that Jesus doesn’t condemn Thomas for his doubt. He doesn’t reach out and knock him across the room or strike him down with a lighting bolt, or anything like that. Jesus’ approach to Thomas is to invite him to explore his doubts, literally, and to come to belief on his own. Thomas is welcome to reach out on touch the risen Jesus, to probe his wounds, to resolve his doubt. Well, Thomas doesn’t need to go that far; he’s a doubter but he’s not dumb. He has been on the journey since the beginning, and he recognizes quickly what having Jesus standing before him in the flesh means and that his friends have been telling him the truth. When invited to reach out and touch, he proclaims his faith.
It’s easy to feel guilty when we have doubts, whether it’s about God’s goodness or God’s power or even that God exists at all. We confuse doubt with disloyalty and disobedience and a bunch of other things that don’t add up. But that’s not how it should be. Jesus had doubt: we saw that when we read the Passions a week or so ago about the Agony in the Garden, when Jesus prayed that the cup might pass from him. He doubted that he could carry on. And yet, that didn’t minimize Easter one bit.
When we have doubts, we should treat it as a sign that there’s something up, as a sign that need to pay attention to how God is working in our lives. Doubts are a normal part of life, and they keep us grounded, they keep us from wandering too far away from reason, they let us know that something isn’t making sense. The thing to do about doubt is to entertain it. Doubt may have a friend or two to introduce us to: guilt and shame. Doubt helps us when it brings those two out into the open, because we can deal with guilt and shame once they come out into the open; we can let God help us be healed from guilt and shame once Doubt brings them into the open.
Doubting Thomases can keep us on track when we’re working together, because they help us keep from falling too much in love with our dreams and keep us attentive to the practical things we need to do. They may not make us feel good in the short term, but they can keep us out of trouble in the long run.
Jesus invites us today to reach out and touch him. He invites us to reach out and take His Body, His Blood. He invites us to touch our fears, to touch our own woundedness as we touch his. He welcomes our doubt, because he knows that when our doubt has passed we will also be ready to do as Thomas did, to proclaim Jesus to the world: “My Lord and My God.”