Doubt and Miracles

I’m not completely sure where the inspiration for today’s message came from. I’d been reading something that referred to God as the Alpha and Omega—the one creative force in the universe that always has been and always will be, outside of time and beyond all created realms. God isn’t limited by any of the things that get in our way in our normal human lives. God doesn’t think small, but rather is the vastness of all possibility; God never sleeps but is the constant, ongoing source of vibrant, abundant life; God loves every living being and celebrates and cheers its growing—from the tiniest healthy T-cell in our bodies to the largest of the world’s ecosystems, including and no doubt going beyond the limits of our known cosmos. Our Alpha and Omega God is omnipresent—everywhere, always—and yet still able miraculously to walk tenderly with each of us, caring about our days, helping us to learn and grow and live with more love, kindness, and mercy. God sends waves of compassion into the world through us. Our hearts and hands and souls are the ambassadors of that transcendent love. The purpose and goal is the flourishing of life, a world of peace and harmony for all. God’s kingdom come, here and now.

But of course we are humans beings living regular human lives, and what we experience on a daily basis is much smaller and more limited that the vast cosmic potential of God’s realm. We each make progress through our lives gradually, step by step, in small ways, over time. We set a goal and we try to reach it; sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. For the most part we love the small and sweet experiences of life, the smell of coffee, the sharing of a good meal with someone we love, that feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing something we’ve been working on for a long time. But our up-close experiences of life also bring challenges and temptations. We do so much and feel so much—and get so caught up in all the drama of the day—that we can lose touch with the larger arc of goodness God is leading us toward. We easily get confused and fixate on the troubles around us, forgetting that so much more than this is possible. We can lose our footing and begin to wonder whether the higher angels of our nature still exist. And then doubt sets in.

Doubt, according to Merriam-Webster’s, is to call into question the truth of something; to be uncertain. And it is a slippery slope.

I think of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the very first moment in our relationship with God where any sort of separation appears. How does it happen? The snake plants a seed of doubt. You may remember that Adam and Eve and God had simply been enjoying paradise, living in peace and beauty and walking and talking together in the cool of the evenings. God had only one rule for Adam and Eve—not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And then Genesis 3:1 tells us this:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

What does that question do? It sows a seed of doubt. It causes Eve to call into question the truth of something, as Merriam-Webster’s said, and she now wonders about the words God said to her and God’s intent behind them. That’s all the snake needs to begin to drive a wedge into the harmonious human-divine relationship. And the rest, as they say, is history. Literally.

This is an important thing for us to know because when we doubt—whether we’re doubting God, doubting ourselves, or doubting our belief in other people—we sometimes blame ourselves and feel bad for having that doubt in the first place. We certainly don’t want to question God, or feel hopeless about humanity, or question our own abilities to do what we want to do in life, but sometimes those waves of human emotions come simply because we feel and react to what’s around us in our world. Our doubt could be the result of something small that got planted in our thinking—a discouraging image, a scary story, something we saw on social media, or the bad mood or unhappy outcome of a friend who is feeling hopeless about the world just now.

Fortunately, when we find ourselves in that lowly place, doubting and full of negative thoughts about what’s possible and what’s happening and questioning how realistic our hopes for the future really are, there is a simple antidote that works every time. Alpha and Omega. The psalmist knew it:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

The psalmist recognized that his view of life was small and worldly. He knew he was limited in his ability to see and know and understand and act on the truth. So he turned away from the voices and conflicts all around him and turned toward All-Present, All-Knowing, All-Living God. And this is important: He chose to trust God with his whole heart. When we are discouraged and feeling small and helpless, our first task is to realize we have a choice—we can change who we’re listening to. We can turn down the volume on the voice of doubt and disaster and open our whole hearts—and minds and lives—to God’s possibility and hope for our lives and our world.

In our New Testament reading today, we heard the story of poor doubting Thomas, the only one who wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his crucifixion. When they told Thomas that Jesus had come, he just couldn’t believe it. He’d never seen or heard of such a thing before. He told them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Who was he listening to, I wonder—his worldly experience or the possibility of God?

But before we judge Thomas for his doubting, we can empathize with his disbelief.  After all, Thomas—this simple, human man, was being asked to believe something he couldn’t possibly imagine. In this worldly realm, he’d never heard of such a thing before. He might have hoped what they told him was true, or wanted it to be true, but he simply couldn’t believe it. Why? Because when he wondered what was possible, he looked to his experience in this realm as evidence of what could be, and left God’s limitless potential out of the picture. His doubts took over his thinking. He just couldn’t conceive of something so unexplainable, so cosmic, so unbounded as Jesus—his beloved teacher, brother, and friend—appearing and speaking to them, alive even though they’d all witnessed his death.

The day that would change everything for Thomas came a week later. He was with the other disciples and the doors of the house were locked once again. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” And then he told Thomas to do whatever he needed to do to replace his doubt with belief. And of course Thomas instantly knew, instantly believed—his doubts simply dissolved as he saw the truth: the presence of the living Lord.

This is a perfect encapsulation of God’s saving, redemptive grace, coming into the lives of each of us as individuals, helping us see what we need to see in order to transform our doubts into faith. This is an Emmanuel moment—Emmanuel meaning, literally, God-with-us—and it shows the greater purpose of Jesus ministry, why he needed to come into this world and walk and talk, teach and love like one of us but with a transcendence that never tied him to this earthly realm. Christ brought then—and still brings today–the cosmic, transcendent, unlimited and healing love and potential of God into our struggling, and often dark and unfriendly world.

Merriam-Webster’s defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs” and Thomas’s experience of Jesus that day can certainly be called a miracle. And we could do a multi-week study on all the miracles Jesus performed throughout his ministry (and come to think of it, maybe we will), but as I see it this morning, they all had something  very important in common.

Think about it: Turning the water into wine, feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes. Healing the blind, making the lame walk, casting out demons, raising people from the dead, forgiving those who were accused and caught in things they didn’t understand. Every miracle Jesus performed came about because he understood that he was truly a citizen of two realms—the cosmic, unlimited potential of God where everything in love is truly possible—and the daily, struggling world that sorely needed his teaching and his grace in the here and now. Jesus was so in touch with the reality of God that he saw the potential wholeness of every situation he encountered; something that is quite hard—but not impossible—for us to see when we are struggling with a problem. But Jesus saw the need and knew God always provides: where there was hunger, God’s love supplied. Where there was illness, God’s wholeness healed. Where there was judgment, God’s grace flowed. Miracles happened, over and over again, not because Jesus was magic but because he trusted God with his whole heart. And God worked perfectly, seamlessly, miraculously, through him.

Doubts are human; miracles, divine. But in this realm, they are two sides of the same coin. When we are feeling low, wrestling with what we are experiencing in the world or what we believe is possible, we simply need to flip the coin over and remember God’s unlimited potential and God’s great love for us. That’s the way we live what the psalmist said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” That’s how God leads us beyond the limits we see and helps us toward the realm of infinite and infinitely loving possibilities . We just need to remember that there is a world beyond the one we’re walking around in each day—and God wants us to know it. We simply need to push pause on the steady stream of doubts going through our heads and let our hearts take us back to God.

It makes me think of a quote from Albert Einstein:

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

The choice is ours. Remembering that is key. Which side of the coin we choose will have a great effect on the way we experience world around us. Let’s try it and see. And let our doubts be dissolved—“put your hand here, in my side”–and made perfect in love.

In closing I’d like to share with you a prayer written in Ireland by St. Patrick in the year 443. This prayer was said to bring a miracle when St. Patrick and his fellow monks were about to be ambushed by those trying to stop them from sharing the gospel in a new land. After he prayed this prayer, it is said he and his fellow monks appeared to those who planned to harm them as a herd of wild deer with a small fawn following them. A miracle? Definitely. Impossible? Not to God.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock…

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ of my right, Christ on my left, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the heart of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me, Christ in the ear of everyone who hears me.

Amen and amen. Thank you, Friends.

RESOURCES:

  • OT Proverbs 3: 5-8
  • NT John 20: 24-30

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