Finding Faith in an Age of Doubt
We live in an age of doubt.
Last week, Bobbie got a call from her credit card company asking if she had just charged $306 worth of gasoline on her card in the state of Washington. “No.” Someone, somewhere, had grabbed the numbers off her card. She had no idea how it happened. But it did.
You may know that she travels to New York City each week where she is pursuing a Masters in Organ Performance. She used that card for food, lodging, and transportation – so you can imagine the stress – and during Holy Week! A few days ago, she learned that the hotels where she’s been staying may have been accused of stealing credit card information from their customers around the nation. Now a question is, who can you trust? Are we all vulnerable?
We live in an age of doubt, but we want to live with faith.
You can see that question in the Gospel of John. In the original ending to the book, one of Jesus’ followers – Thomas – heard that Jesus had somehow come back to life. Thomas wanted to believe, but the story had too many holes in it. It was just too far-fetched. He took a breath, shook his head, and said he’d have to see for himself.
I’ve always liked Thomas for that. He knew what his questions were, and he didn’t try to hide them for fear of being out of step with the other disciples. If you’re on the path of learning about God, there’s no honest question that’s out of step. The questions are how you move forward on the journey.
Sometimes doubt can help you seek answers that will lead you toward God. And seeking answers means pursuing questions.
Doubt can be useful – especially when it leads you to ask the right questions. When someone promises to make you feel like a winner, you should ask, “How much money is asked of me to make me feel like a winner?” –and who gets that money? And is that really what it takes to feel like a winner? And what exactly IS, the purpose of feeling like a winner? Isn’t life, itself, a blessing – and if not, why not?
You see how easy it is to get carried away with questions when you decide that it’s okay to doubt other people’s answers about things.
How many television preachers have promised health and wealth to people who will send in a generous love offering? Someone who promises God’s blessings if you just send them money – in my mind, that’s when doubt becomes a useful tool.
You exercise doubt when someone assures you that a refrigerator will last a lifetime: Ask some questions: “Whose lifetime?” “Your lifetime?” “The lifetime of the retailer who is selling them? “The lifetime of the refrigerator – which may be only 24 months?” “And what if it doesn’t last – then what?” And compared to other refrigerators, how will this refrigerator impact the environment?
And what about those self-driving cars? – Do I just get in and tell it where I want to go? Would it be safe? Could some hacker take control from a remote location? This is an age of doubt, but I’d like a little more certainty about things.
So, doubt can be a good thing. But sometimes people spread doubt as a tool to further hidden purposes that they don’t tell you about.
Our faith tells us that we have inherited earth as a sacred trust – that dominion over it involves taking a steward’s care over it. For decades, now, we’ve been learning about the negative impact of human activity on the planet. Scientists are 95% certain that human activity is causing the rapid warming of the earth. And yet, we have people in government saying, “Oh, I really don’t know anything about that – there are so many different opinions.” They promise that all those environmental regulations are bad, and that we shouldn’t really worry about air and water quality – or the rapid rise of the oceans.
They want us to doubt science and history so that alternative facts can reshape our thinking. They manufacture doubt so that industrial giants can go ahead and pollute the water and the air in order to improve their profit margin.
I am sure the cable channels will be full of ridicule for scientists around the world who marched yesterday to protest the actions of climate change deniers who are sowing seeds of doubt.
And I know that conspiracy theories can grab a tight hold on any of us – A woman in Florida has been arrested for failing to show up at her sentencing trial for the crime of mailing threating letters to the father of one of the children who was killed in the Newtown, Connecticut mass killing.
She believed that news of that mass killing was a hoax – maybe by people trying to advance gun control. She was outraged that the father was insisting that his little son had died in the attack, so she threatened him. That’s troubling on so many levels! If that woman had only been able to ask her own critical questions, and not just buy someone else’s prepackaged story!
Remember the Apostle Thomas: He is a good model for any follower of Jesus who is willing to start asking questions. In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus had just explained that he was going away to prepare a heavenly home for his followers, and that one day they would join him there. Apparently most of the disciples just accepted that as fact. But Thomas had some doubts; “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
In the 24th Chapter, Thomas says he’s not going to believe what the other disciples told him about Jesus – and furthermore, he wasn’t even going to be convinced just by seeing Jesus and his wounds, but he insisted that he would also need to put his hands into the wounds before he would trust that Jesus had risen.
So many have been taught that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven – and that any kind of doubt is the work of the devil. Once you’re under that spell, any kind of question is – out of the question! Jesus did say that people are blessed when they can just believe. But he also made accommodation for Doubting Thomas.
Thomas demanded scientific proof, and the story allowed it. And by the way, legend has it that following that deep encounter with Jesus, Thomas traveled all the way to India to spread the Gospel. Once his doubt was answered, his faith became focused – and he carried the word to all whom he met along the way.
We live in an age of doubt. But everything in life comes into question when doubt becomes our guide moving forward. When doubt becomes our guide, we doubt ourselves. We doubt our institutions. We doubt what people offer us as fact. We doubt the promises we make to one another. We doubt tomorrow. We doubt God.
But, here’s the thing. We were not made for doubt. We were made for faith. Because if life is truly the amazing gift of God offered to every creature on this and any planet – then faith (and the ability to ask questions along the way) will show us the path forward.
Lance and I were talking about the church the other day. I said how empty it can feel in this big sanctuary when our numbers are smaller. –How much harder it is to find liturgical combustion.” That was my voice of doubt speaking.
But Lance said, “I prefer to say how fortunate we are to have so much room for people here.” I loved his answer. And it’s true. As a community of faith, we have all kinds of room here for doubts; but going forward, it is our faith that brings the new day. And so, we say to all who will enter here, Bring your question; bring your hope and fear; bring your hurt and joy, bcause… “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, YOU are welcome here – or any other gathering of people who covenant to know God!
This is a time for strong faith!