Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

Mountain of Doubt (May-Jun 2003)

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Jeff Christian
May-June 2003

When my son died in 1997, I began to doubt God.

I never doubted His existence, but I had some serious questions if He knew what He was doing. I felt myself sinking in a quicksand of guilt until I read Psalm 13 as my own story. Evidently I was not the first person on God’s timeline to ask, “How long, O Lord?” Like countless others, I pined away the hours imagining myself before God just past the pearly gates with my list of questions in hand. I soon came to the conclusion, however, that by the time I get there, I probably will no longer be concerned with earthly things. But I am not in heaven yet. So like Thomas after the resurrection, I still have my questions.

Soon after Jennifer and I lost our son, my doubt began to feed on itself. Although people meant well, their words of encouragement only sounded like the muffled voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher. Jen and I wrestled with every emotion, even guilt. We felt guilty because we wanted to listen to each person’s perspective who so desperately wanted to help us through an impossible time. I felt guilty because I did not want to pray.

Even the words of Jesus’ promise to his disciples on the mountain of his ascension made me tired. “I will be with you,” he said. I wanted to believe so badly. The knots of grief in my throat felt like nails in my hands. As I tried to pray, I found myself standing there on the mountain in Matthew 28. It would be arrogant of me to think, however, that I stand there alone. Many of us have gathered there on the mountain through the years with Matthew. Verses 16-17 tell the story of a group who came to the mountain to worship Jesus, Thomas surely among them. Without commentary, Matthew reminds us—just before quoting the Great Commission—that those of us who wonder are not alone: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (NIV). I was standing there that day on the mountain next to Thomas. In fact, he and I became pretty good friends.

Like Thomas, Lazarus only gets press in the gospel of John (11:16 and 14:5). This is no surprise. Three main conversations concerning Thomas all relate to resurrection.

Lazarus died. It was time to go to his tomb. Thomas chimed in, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16, NIV). Then when Jesus actually speaks of death in John 14, Thomas interrupted Jesus just when the sermon gets good. Jesus finishes his thought only after Thomas in his sincere but audacious honesty said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

I thought Thomas was slightly imbalanced until I got to know him. And yes, Thomas can be a tad headstrong at times. But I like him. He simply wants to make sure he understands. If John’s stated purpose in chapter 20 is so that we may believe, Thomas helps me to believe. He is not afraid to run the risk of appearing rough around the edges on his quest to follow the real Jesus.

I finally realized that I have even more in common with my friend Thomas when we crossed paths again in John 20. Our friends are parading in the streets because Jesus is alive, but my belief cannot depend on hearsay.

I have to see this for myself. Why should I take the word of people who fled like scared cats at the first sign of a cross? Like Thomas, I want to touch Jesus, not listen to other people’s encounters. And like Thomas, sometimes I have to wait. Between Thomas’s statement in 20:25 that he will not believe until he touches Jesus, and the time that he sees Jesus in 20:26, one week passes. I spent years in that one week. But Thomas was there with me, waiting for Jesus to increase my faith.

Thomas gets a bad rap in most circles. His doubt has even branded him with a nickname. But I hesitate to join the chorus of rebuke for “Doubting Thomas.” If Thomas had so little faith, why is he still around after the cross? Why is he such a prominent figure in John’s gospel?

Thomas was not welcome in most churches for years and still is not welcome in many churches today. Preachers may occasionally make an example of him when the Judas sermons have worn a bit thin. Thomas is welcome in my church. When he first heard about the resurrection of Jesus, he said what many of us say when we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. He says that his faith will be measured empirically by what he can see and touch.

While I want to stay with Thomas in John where the scenario achieves some resolution, my experience with life sends me suddenly back to the mountain at the end of Matthew’s story. Matthew lumps him in a group who he says have come to worship Jesus, although “some doubt.” Thomas and I were standing next to one another that day. And I am still glad that Thomas and I remain friends. He has given me the courage to stay quiet when people enter the valley. I no longer feel the need to explain people’s pain away so that I will feel more comfortable in the midst of their doubt. I invite people in their valleys to pray with questions. I tell them to pray the Psalms. And I introduce them to my friend, Thomas.

Today Thomas no longer stands on the mountain alone. Millions of us have joined him, curious to see whether or not this Jesus is going to live up to his promises. My questions do not seem to go away in spite of the oft-quoted clichés of grief recovery groups and the empty calories of afternoon self-help television. Such attempts do not take away the loss or the pain. The only satisfaction I seem to find comes as we stand there on the mountain in Matthew 28, and in the house in John 20. Jesus does not leave us in our doubt. On the contrary, our doubts are addressed, not with judgment, but with assurance of the presence of the resurrected Jesus. Only when Jesus says it am I willing to listen. Not until Jesus tells me to stop doubting and believe will I let down my guard and proclaim as only Thomas does, “My Lord and my God.”

Jeff Christian is a preaching minister for the Glenwood Church in Tyler, Texas. He received his B.A. and M.Div. from Abilene Christian University. He and his wife Jennifer have two children, Cole and Reese. Jeff enjoys playing with his family and competing in triathlons.

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