April 8, 2013, 1:56 PM
Everybody Doubts Sometime
Thomas gives credibility to our doubts.
In Matthew’s gospel, the eleven go up a mountain in Galilee to meet the risen Christ. There they see Jesus for the last time. Scripture says, “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.” Some! Out of eleven, some doubted! For those disciples, seeing did not help believing.
Our doubts are reasonable. Who else doubted or questioned in scripture? Abraham and Sarah doubted that God would give them a child in their old age and took matters into their own hands. Moses wasn’t all that sure about meeting God at the burning bush. And he knew that the people to whom he was sent would doubt him and God.
Doubt in the face of unbelievable events is natural.
But doubt wasn’t the only emotional response at play among the disciples. The doors of the house were locked out of fear of the people who had condemned Jesus to death. The disciples feared for their own lives. Their fear was every bit as reasonable as their doubt.
Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” And again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Forgiveness is the antidote to fear. Peace is the result. This is the kind of doubt that I think it’s so much more important to talk about. Jesus said a lot of things about how we ought to worship, and how we ought to treat ourselves and each other that seem contradictory to common sense. For a long time it was easier for me to believe in the parting of the Red Sea or the virgin birth than it was to believe that forgiving myself and others would give me peace—certainly I didn’t believe it enough to act on it much less think it made sense. Maybe I could sign off on it as a “spiritual truth,” you know one of those pie in the sky ideas, but not as path to actual healing for myself and my relationships.
Doubt can be a useful stance. It can keep us from being hoodwinked. If the offer on the phone or in the email seems too good to be true—it is too good to be true and we should shut it down immediately. But doubt can also keep us chained to old messages, past failures, and counterproductive patterns of living. We don’t have to live in the same rut or groove we’ve lived in all our lives. God can and will reach in and lift us out, but we have to believe that it’s possible and use the tools God provides.
The disciples moved from living in fear behind locked doors to preaching in the public square through the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and find peace. I’ll tell you a story on myself. I used to work with a group of women in a busy office. There was one woman who was bossy and opinionated beyond belief. She liked to tell me how to do my job even after I’d worked there for over a year. None of us enjoyed working with her. We often brought treats to share and if there were nuts in the treat, she would proclaim loudly, “I don’t like nuts!” and huff off. I was making fudge at Christmas one year and thought about her little tiffs as I was about to add pecans to the batch. I scooped out a portion for her and then added the pecans. When I took my fudge into the office she was absolutely delighted that someone had considered her and her demeanor changed. Or was it my demeanor? I began to enjoy working with her and I honestly cannot tell you which of us changed—maybe it was both of us.
In one of the first churches I held a leadership role in, I offered a class. One of the women who signed up for the class came to me to tell me that she wasn’t going to take the class after all because a woman who had a reputation for being difficult and argumentative had also signed up. I was really disappointed because I knew the class discussions would be harder and I was really going to miss the woman who dropped out. She was amazingly wise and kind. I’ll tell you how kind she was. She came back to me the next day and said that she’d been thinking about how hard it must be for that other woman—to have people not want to be in groups with her. She said, “You know, I decided to take the class after all and maybe we can all help her to learn how to be in a group.” And that’s what she did—and it worked! Little by little, with kindness, good modeling, and encouragement, the difficult woman learned how to participate more gracefully.
I doubted that both the stories I told you would work out the way that they did. I really did. Jesus gave his disciples and those of us who follow excellent instructions for living that seem counterintuitive. So even if there are parts of the resurrection story that don’t make sense to you, believe this: forgiveness is the key to peace. I don’t care how you get there—there are lots of ways: accept God’s forgiveness, forgive yourself, forgive others, accept the forgiveness of others. Forgiveness will bring you peace—and freedom to come out from behind locked doors with a witness to the power of God’s love.
Is letting go of doubt easy? Let me share with you a word of wisdom for leaders from Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky’s book Leadership on the Line. The speak of the necessity for keeping your heart soft when you lead, even when you face doubts—and everybody doubts sometime.
The virtue of a sacred heart lies in the courage to maintain your innocence and wonder, your doubt and curiosity, and your compassion and love even through your darkest, most difficult moments. Leading with an open heart means you could be at your lowest point, abandoned by your people and entirely powerless, yet remain receptive to the full range of human emotions without going numb, striking back, or engaging in some other defense. In one moment you may experience total despair, but in the next, compassion and forgiveness. . . . A sacred heart allows you to feel, hear, and diagnose, even in the midst of your mission, so that you can accurately gauge different situations and respond appropriately. . . . Without keeping your heart open, it becomes difficult, perhaps impossible, to fashion the right response and to succeed or come out whole.
That’s not bad advice for everyone. Keep your heart open to compassion and forgiveness. Believe that even what you think may be impossible is ready to spring into new life through the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s love.