The Irish theologian Peter Rollins has a recent book out entitled “Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt is Divine.” To doubt is divine? His point is that if we imagine the spiritual journey as primarily being about assenting to the right beliefs and doctrines, then doubting can be deadly. But if we see the journey as a radical encounter with God, then humble doubting helps make sure our thoughts of God do not keep us from God.

As I grew up in the Catholic tradition, the apostle Thomas was called “Doubting Thomas” and it was not a complement. If we consider Thomas’ story in light of the distinctions Rollins is making, a whole different story emerges. Let’s see if this picture can awaken us this evening.

Thomas Loves Reality 

If we look at earlier references to Thomas in the gospel we would see he is a person of substance. He comes across as very honest and real. Earlier in the gospel Jesus is talking about going to Jerusalem where the leaders are who have threatened Him. While other disciples were rebuking Jesus for talking like this, Thomas sees what is really going on and expresses total commitment: “Let us go and die with him.” Later Jesus talks about going away and saying the disciples will follow later and Thomas has the courage to ask the tough question “If you do not tell us where you are going how will we know the way?” This blunt realism is seen again in our text today: Thomas is not going to take anyone’s word for it that Jesus is risen. He wants to see for himself. But he is not going anywhere. He is committed.

Being a person that wants to experience reality for himself is scary for a church that wants us to take their word for it. I think this explains the negative vibe toward Thomas. The text itself, however, suggests Thomas is a model disciple. Thomas is real and honest, not in his head – he wants to experience Jesus, to literally touch Him. He wants his own personal story of encounter with Jesus, not just assent or agreement with someone else’s story. We know this is what we should want as well, because the text gives Thomas the Mount Everest line of the whole gospel, the line we have been waiting the whole gospel for someone to say to Jesus: “My Lord and My God! Blest are we when we come to the same experience without the same physical encounter Thomas was able to have.

Blessed Doubt

Not all doubt is divine. Sometimes we use doubt to avoid reality. I was having dinner with three clients a few weeks ago that I have known for several years. They know of my interest in theology so sometimes God pops up in conversation. Near the end of dinner Nancy offered that she avoided religion these days because she could not imagine a God who would allow all the pain in the world. This was said in a way that did not invite conversation, however, I had the strongest urge to ask a question that had never occurred to me before. Rather than debate God, I wanted to ask “Let’s put God aside for a moment. I would be much more interested to talk about what you believe about yourself. This is something you have real information on. What do you believe about you? Have you experienced the Creator, the Ground of Being in you?”

Doubt is divine, however, when it puts me in a posture for encounter. All the spiritual traditions encourage us to get out of our heads to a place of “no mind.” Thomas was not theorizing about the resurrection in his head. He was not worried about how Jesus came through the locked door, how Jesus came back to life, why his wounds were still visible or what happens next. No, he was focused on the deep knowing though encounter. The path to encounter is quieting the mind, observing but not running with stray thoughts, becoming aware of touch and breath and entering God’s presence in the now. Doubt that puts the mind in a servant’s role is divine.

My confirmation name is Thomas. I picked this name because as I went through confirmation with my class I was not into it. I doubted, but it would have been embarrassing to say so. That is why I picked the name Thomas. Now I see Thomas as someone of honesty and reality, who wanted to connect with God. He challenges me now because I am SO comfortable in my head. I do not need to read another book on prayer, I need to pray. I do not need another book on social justice, I need to be more just.

One of our slogans here is “All Are Welcome.” I suggest we add “Doubters In Particular!” Come one, come all. Let’s be honest together, let’s be real together, let’s find “no mind” together in prayer. Let’s practice having our minds be servants, not masters, of our spiritual journey and then tell each other our stories of awakening and encounter.


George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

Saturday Evening, April 26, 2014

Focus text: John 20: 19-31 (“Doubting Thomas”)    

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