Without (a) Doubt

The text of the sermon, based on John 20.19-31, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 16, 2023.


Last Sunday, Easter Day, we, the community of St. Matthew’s, with Christians around the world and “joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven,”[1] joyously proclaimed the central tenet of our faith, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” – without which there is no Christianity, no church, no mission, no ministry, no us.

Today, this Second Sunday of Easter, we read of the encounter a week after that first Easter Day between the resurrected Jesus and his disciple Thomas, who, down through the ages, has been maligned with that sobriquet “doubting Thomas.”

This seemingly paradoxical juxtaposition is intended to help us to see and believe that faith and doubt are not in opposition, but rather abide in creative tension. Faith is the target toward which the sharp, insightful arrow of doubt is aimed. Doubt is as a bellow that fans faith’s fire.

By doubt, I do not mean our stubborn refusal to consider anything other than what we already believe. That’s not doubt. That, for me, is a kind of calcified certainty hardened by fear. Of which, historically and currently, there are far too many examples across the spectrum of human living.

By doubt, I do mean the wonderment that arises from the honest confession, “I’m not sure,” and then engages in earnest inquiry.

Faith and doubt are my daily companions…

Without doubt, I can’t ask questions, which are as important as answers; and, concerning the state of myself, my soul, more important.

Anyone can give an answer. To wit, I receive information from a reliable source – a Bible, a scholar, a trusted friend – and then I repeat it to you, word for word, without necessarily revealing much, if anything of what I think or believe. However, when I ask you a question, I express…expose more of who I am and what matters to me.

Without doubt, I can’t listen; hearing, perceiving ideas other than my own.

Without doubt, I can’t learn; discovering something other than what I think I already know.

Without doubt, I can’t believe; putting into practice, granting intellectual assent to something I’ve learned.

Without doubt, I can’t have faith; being assured, convinced of something I can’t see.[2]

All this – the value, the necessity of doubt – is what Thomas tells me.

When Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted, condemned to death and crucified, everything Thomas believed…the one in whom he believed was destroyed. Thomas, devastated, withdraws from his fellow disciples, descending into a solitary tomb of hopelessness.

The risen Jesus appears to the disciples. They, inspired, inspirited with joy, search for their friend. Finding him, they share the news: “We have seen the Lord!”

Note Thomas’ response. Though deep in despair, he maintains an essential openness, receptivity to the world around him. He doesn’t dismiss his friends’ confession of faith, saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” He doesn’t reject them, saying, “I don’t believe you!” Rather, with the clarity, the ironic certainty of his doubt, Thomas knows, confesses his need: “Unless I see and put my finger in the mark of the nails in his hands and side, I will not believe.”

Then, with the courage of…encouraged by his doubt, Thomas rejoins his friends. Putting himself in place to test his conviction. Putting himself in place to behold a vision of the risen Jesus. Putting himself in place to make his declaration of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus asks, “Do you believe because you have seen me?”

I don’t think that Thomas believed because he saw Jesus. Sight is a faulty, easily fooled physical sense. Never a trustworthy, solitary pathway to belief.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, many people saw him. Ate and drank with him. Heard his teaching. Witnessed his miracles. Nevertheless, he was arrested and accused, condemned and crucified because they didn’t believe.

Thomas didn’t believe because he saw. Thomas saw because he believed. Believed that Jesus – the one whom he had followed, from whom he learned, who, true to his destiny, had died and been raised from the dead, therefore, whose way he would follow for the rest of his life – was Lord and God.

Do we want to believe, have faith in Jesus? All it takes is a little doubt.

© 2023 PRA

Illustration: The St. Thomas window (“My Lord, my God”), St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC

[1] From Eucharistic Prayer A, The Book of Common Prayer, page 362

[2] An allusion to Hebrews 11.1: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

2 thoughts on “Without (a) Doubt

  1. Paul,

    This was just amazing!! Thank you for giving us permission to have doubt, AND for sharing so many reasons why we SHOULD have doubt!

    One of the things that has helped me tremendously since becoming a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator is that I MUST listen to all voices who are sharing and many times those voices are different than mine but I’ve become a much better listener even when I gave doubt!!

    I’m So grateful for your words that I can read and digest from afar!!



  2. Loretta, the response to this sermon amazed me. Many folk have expressed appreciation for the permission to doubt. Whilst doubt has been an aspect of my faith walk for quite some time, it hadn’t occurred to me that others had not felt the same way. I suspect, again, given the outpouring of words of gratitude for this sermon, that many folk have harbored their doubts, speaking only to themselves in the silent language of their hearts.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close