Isn’t doubt good?

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez S.J. - The Philippine Star

“I have doubts about my faith.” More than a few times, I have been approached with this concern. My usual reply: “What do you mean by having doubts? If you mean you have questions about your faith, then congratulations! It is good that you have questions about your faith. This is a sign that you take it seriously, that you don’t just accept it nonchalantly, and that you want to go deeper into it.”

If you really think about your faith, how can you not have questions? A man is crucified and dies, and then he comes back not to haunt us but to offer us new life. More than that, we say this man is God! Why would God do this for us? What did we ever do to deserve this? With his resurrection, Jesus has won over evil. But if this is already victory, why do so many bad things still happen to us? If God loves us, why are there earthquakes? Why do we still have corrupt politicians? Why haven’t we learned from our mistakes? Questions stir up more questions, and though sometimes we may feel we are no closer to any satisfying answer, we trust that in our wrestling, we are growing closer to our God.

Doubt has a bad rap, and it does not help when we brand one of the apostles in our Gospel today as Doubting Thomas. But the word doubt does not appear in our Gospel today – go back to the English translation read in Catholic Masses today (from the New American Bible), and see for yourself. Even if you go back to the original Greek, you will not find the word doubt, distazo, in chapter 20 of John.

In the Gospel of Matthew, doubt or distazo does appear, but it cannot distance Jesus from us. In Matthew 14, Jesus calls Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water. Peter starts doing so, but he gets frightened and begins to sink. Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” But this does not stop Jesus from reaching out to him and taking his hand. In Matthew 28, the Resurrected Jesus meets the remaining 11 disciples on a mountain. When they see him, they worship, but they also doubt. In the face of their doubt, Jesus still commissions them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations… and behold, I am with you always….” Doubt cannot keep Jesus away.

It is not the word doubt but the word unbelieving, or apistos, which appears in our Gospel today. Thomas does not really doubt; instead, he just refuses to believe. Thomas does not really have a question; instead, he just sets a condition: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

We may never have said Thomas’ words, but many of us have shared his sentiment: “Unless God grants me this wish… unless God heals this sickness… unless God makes this miracle happen….” When we fall into this trap, what can help us get out?

Jesus comes to Thomas and invites him, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side.” Our Gospel does not really say whether Thomas did, but just seeing Jesus is enough to make Thomas proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” What can help us when we fall into the trap of refusing to believe? The answer: An encounter with Jesus. We may have so many questions, we may seek answers to these questions in so many ways, but in the end, it is encounter that brings us to faith.

Encounter brings us to truth. In a YouTube video that features young adults and Martial Law victims meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypAFveV7-J8), the young adults begin with their ideas about how Martial Law was a time of discipline and good governance. Then the victims start telling their stories, and the young adults see another side. This is not really about ideas but encounter. By the end of the video, a young woman can only say, “Pwede pong pa-hug?” And this deepens the encounter.     

But Jesus says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Does this not disparage encounter? No. What I think this tells us is that the encounter with Jesus does not have to happen with our eyes beholding Jesus himself physically. The encounter with Jesus can happen through others, when we feel God’s love through the life of those who like us have questions about our faith, who have doubts, but who still trust in God.

In a recollection last Good Friday, one of our activities was to write down our wounds in small pieces of paper and then insert them into the wounds of Jesus, into the cracks and crevices of a broken old crucifix. As we did so, we prayed, “Hide us in your wounds, Lord.” That night, for my prayer, I read the wounds written anonymously: Babies lost, failure in school and at work, spouses betraying one another, love rejected but still offered…. I was not expecting these. Why would people actually write down their deepest wounds? I have many questions about why Jesus died on the cross. But encountering the wounds of people and encountering their faith in the simple act of hiding their wounds in Jesus’ wounds revealed to me one possible answer: Jesus’ suffering is a sharing in ours.

If you have doubts and questions about your faith, thank God. Then seek answers not just in books and lectures but in encounters.

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