Doubt goes hand in hand with faith. Faith, in many respects, is believing in spite of one’s doubt, not in a irrational way, but in a way that accepts the doubt as part of the faith. I am not talking about blind faith where you simply close your ears to any contrary opinions, but a faith that is strengthened by engaging your own doubts and fears, facing them and confronting them. All relationships involve risk, and our relationship with God is no different in that respect. All relationships at times involve doubt, questioning the reality and strength of that relationship, especially in difficult times. Will the relationship hold? Does the other person truly care? The same questions can arise with God, especially when the circumstances of life lead us to a place where we feel most alone.
Our Sunday gospels of late enfold us between two stories of disciples experiencing doubt. First, we had Thomas who needed that concrete, physical reassurance that Jesus had not abandoned him. Then, we heard the wonderful story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples, Cleopas and most likely his wife Mary (cf. John 19:25), had given up and were going home. They were discouraged and beaten. They had lost. They thought Israel was going to be redeemed, but instead the one they believed was Messiah had been crucified. Both Thomas and Cleopas and Mary doubted that Jesus was really who they had thought him to be. When things did not turn out as they had hoped and expected, they gave up. In many ways doubt is often a failure of imagination, an inability to envision possibility.
One of my favorite things about both of these stories is that Jesus specifically reaches out to the ones who are doubting. He deliberately addresses Thomas’ concerns and invites him to “not be unbelieving, but believe.” Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus “drew near and walked with” Cleopas and Mary on their journey of doubt. The doubt in both of these stories becomes the catalyst for a much deeper faith and a deeper relationship. Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God.” Cleopas and Mary come to understand the Scriptures in a new way, their eyes are opened, their hearts are burning, and they immediately set out to share their experience with the others. Those who doubted now become the proclaimers of the gospel.
In our own lives doubt can also lead us to a stronger, deeper faith and relationship. Coming through the times of our lives that challenge our belief that God is with us, that sometimes challenge our very image and understanding of who God is, can lead us to a place of deeper, intuitive trust in the fidelity of God, an experiential knowing that God is always with us even in our moments of doubt and despair, and a place of letting God be God in all the mystery that entails.