Doubting Jesus

Each week, I take some time to reflect on one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week for the second Sunday of Easter, we're going to look at the gospel reading: John 20:19-31.

This is the time of year when I usually write about how unfair it is for Thomas to be saddled with the moniker "Doubting" especially since he's the first one in the Gospel of John to declare Jesus to be Lord and God. I typically would write about how doubts are a normal, legitimate, and healthy part of faith. All of those things are still true but reading the story this morning, I was struck by a thought that has never hit me before. We talk all the time about how Thomas doubted Jesus, but how much did Jesus doubt Thomas? How much did he doubt all of us?

We don't usually think of God as the doubting type but God's uncertainty about us is seeded throughout scripture. There are several stories of God wanting to ditch the whole human project and basically start all over (the flood narrative, but also Moses convincing God not to destroy Israel in Exodus 32:9-14). So the idea of God having doubts about us is nothing revolutionary. Lest we think these doubts are restricted to the Old Testament, three of the gospels (Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41) share a moment in which Jesus wonders how much longer he has to be stuck with a bunch of unbelievers like us.

And why wouldn't God have those doubts? For our entire existence, we have done nothing but give God reasons to doubt. All of us, myself prominently included, let our molehill pride, grudges, lusts, and plain laziness transform into mountains that block our way from truly following God with our whole heart. We take faith and twist it into something that destroys. In our hands, faith fueled the bloody Crusades. It justified systemic racism that is still taking lives like those of Walter Scott this past week. During Holy Week, faith was prominently used as the reason to not show hospitality to others (you should go read this; seriously). For every legitimate reason that we have to doubt God, God has probably six billion reasons to doubt us.

I wonder if these things ever went through Jesus' mind. Did he have a sense of how massively we would mess up some of this? Were there moments in which he almost hesitated to preach, to heal? Did the Tempter whisper in his ear, "They're never going to truly follow you"? Believing that Jesus was fully human, I have to think that he did have these doubts. When he prayed, I believe he struggled mightily with whether we were worth it. Sure, you could argue that God being God knows how it is all going to turn out and therefore presses forward. But let's not let that line of thinking turn God into a machine that presses on unaffected by what we do. 

In spite of these doubts, Jesus still reached out to us and reached out with compassion. He certainly could have done everything begrudgingly. He could have lost his cool with the disciples countless times. He could have shouted down his mockers from the cross. Jesus could have refused Thomas' need to touch his resurrected teacher's nail-scarred hands. He could have said that seeing should just be enough. Yet Jesus meets people like Thomas where they are.

This vulnerable God reaching out to us in spite of this deluge of legitimate uncertainty compels me to reach back as well. It doesn't erase doubts or necessarily answer questions. Yet it is another reminder of the massive chasm that God traversed and still traverses to be with me, to be with each of us. Today that is enough to remind me that Jesus is indeed my Lord and my God.

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