Doubt

faith-and-doubt

Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version (NIV)

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Last week it was Trinty Sunday and all around the world, preachers are trying to explain the trinity, the idea that there are three distinct things, the father (God), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit, and despite their separateness, they are somehow one.

I’ve tried explaining it myself a few times on Trinity Sunday, but the truth is, that this is one of the mysteries of the faith, part of the Otherness of God, something so unlike what we can experience or imagine that we may never fully “get it”

It becomes an act of faith, bolstered by a few verses like today’s scripture where Jesus tells us to make people disciples in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.

Our scripture is a familiar one. These are last words of Christ on this earth. He has been crucified and resurrected. He has spent forty days since his resurrection coming and going out of the Disciples lives, eating with them, teaching and now he is about to ascend into heaven until the day that he comes again.

Up to this point, most of his contact after the resurrection has been in and around Jerusalem, but now, for this last moment together, they are in Galilee on an un-named mountain.

This happens often in the Book of Matthew. Jesus goes to unnamed mountains to pray or connect with God and to have time away from the crowds to be with his inner circle of friends and disciples. And on this day, he goes to the mountain as he prepares to go to heaven.

And he gives them what has become known as The Great Commission:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Today’s scripture comes from the Lectionary, a three year cycle of scripture readings that take us through the important scriptures of the entire bible. Every week, people of every denomination read the same scriptures. Preachers worldwide are today preach from the lectionary scripture, just as I did Sunday. And generally, when they encounter this scripture they are focus either on The Great Commission or the idea of the trinity

 These two things are the clear focal points of the scripture – The final command to spread God’s story and bring people into the family of Christ’s love, and the idea of the three, father, son and holy spirit are distinct and separate.

Both speak to important doctrines of the church.  Both are central commands an drivers of the church and its mission. Both are preached and taught and beaten into us until we are numb. All of which makes it hard for us preacher types who have to do a sermon on something you’ve heard before? How to make it new? How to cut through the familiarness to make an impact?

Fortunately I was spared that task, because, as I was reading and studying,  suddenly something jumped out at me that had gotten lost in past readings and studying of this verse. And that something was in verses 16-17:  “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

So the 11 remaining disciples go up on this mountain. The disciples, without Judas, and without Mathias, who was chosen to replace Judas. Just the 11 origional disciples. His dearest friends.

And they worshiped him, but some DOUBTED.

Does that surprise you as much as it surprised me? Think about all these men had been through with Jesus, his Baptism, his ministry, the healings, the miracles, The casting out of demons, the raising of Lazarus, and his own resurrection. They had seen him walk through walls after his resurrection, and walk on water before it.

They have seen all this, time and time again, for more than three years, and yet, they doubted? How in the world could this be?

Well, the bible doesn’t tell us how it can be. And it doesn’t say what they doubted. Was it Jesus? His messiah hood? Their own sanity in what they were seeing? Or was it their future? How were they going to do this, keep the great commission. What was the next act? How were they going to complete this Herculean task?  They were after all, simple people. Limited in influence. Limited in education. Not the obvious choices to change the world.

We don’t know what they doubted. Only that they did.

 And we know this: They were never chastised for their doubt. Never put down. Never told they were “bad” believers because of it.

 Think about that a minute.  This is a holy moment. And yet, they were, after all they had seen, doubting. But not chastised for that doubt. It is simply recognized.

A lot of times we think we have to be always positive, always up, always declairing how perfect God is and how we feel about him.

Go to a Christian convention, or even to many churches, or a bible study – any place where a lot of Christian’s are gathered together. Go to such a place and all you hear is how great everything is. How everyone’s faith is great. How everyone’s life is great. How perfect everyone’s Christian life is.

When we go to Bible Study or Sunday School, we are asked a question and we have what I call “The Sunday School answer” right at hand. We know the answer should be.  It’s easy to think that everyone around us in a holy setting has a crazy deep faith, with no doubt whatsoever.

But I am here to tell you, almost everyone with a real faith, has times of doubt. It comes in times of  sickness or death or loss. It comes in the face of evil, in the face of things that don’t make sense. We doubt. It is a human thing and all of us do it.

Think about this – If Christ could live with his disciples having doubt after all they had seen and all they had experienced, then maybe it’s time we admit that faith is hard, that doubt is natural.

And if it is an honest doubt, a searching doubt, it’s not all bad. It is simply human nature. When we don’t know, we begin to doubt.  And, maybe, just maybe, we should follow Christ’s approach and not condemn doubt or doubters. Make it OK to doubt and to express that doubt, and make church a safe place to say “I have a hard time with….”

Now, I have to tell you, If I were Jesus at that moment, I likely would  have thrown up my arms in frustration. I would have been angry. I would have screamed at them, “What in the holy heck do I have to do to make you confident?!!!!!”

But he doesn’t.

I can’t tell you exactly how to banish doubt.  We all have our own needs to help us move past it. But these verses give us one suggestion.  Let’s go to Verse 17 again:  “17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

They worshiped him. Even in their doubt, they worshiped. They continued to worship. They lived with a lens of belief, and in that lens, in that approach, their doubt became a searching, not a rejection. They were looking for reasons to believe instead of reasons to disbelieve.

Too often, when we doubt our faith, we leave.  We walk away. We begin to act as if whatever we doubt is false. We look for reasons for it to be false. And for other things to be true, instead of considering that maybe, just maybe, it is our knowledge and understanding that is lacking, not our God.

But when we doubt and stay; if we doubt, but stick with it. If we stay, and seek for reasons TO believe, worship and study, admitting that maybe we are lacking in understanding, we are likely to find the answers.

Why? Because they are there.

Think of it as an Easter egg hunt.

We are told that the field to our left is full of Easter eggs. So we take our basket and go looking. But when we go to the field on the left, the grass is high and we don’t immediately see Easter eggs, so you begin to doubt there are any.

That doubt leaves you have two choices. You can continue to search in the field to the left, where you will eventually find the eggs (because they are there). Or you can go to the other field, the one to the right, and search and guess what – you will never find any Easter eggs. Because they are not there. They are all right where you were told they are.

God is not afraid of our doubt.  And we in the church should not be either. He knows the answers are here (in the bible). And if we stay in the faith, stay searching, we will find them.

He knows that the things we learn through our searching through doubt are lessons that are strong and enduring. They stick with us.

Are you doubting something about your faith right now? Join the club. You can’t be in any better company of doubters than the disciples. Keep searching. Don’t run away from the answers. Read your bible. Find mentors and teachers. Ask. Be open about your doubts. Give God a chance.

That is the way to push past doubt to understanding and even stronger belief.

Be well, my friends. Travel wisely.

Tom