We tend to think of faith and doubt as binary concepts; either one has faith or one has doubt. Either we’re the women at the tomb who believed or we’re Thomas.
Either we trust or we’re skeptics, full of goodness or children of evil.
This is balderdash.
Because like most character traits, faith and doubt are not stand-ins for good character or evil behavior. Indeed, it’s not like if you have one you don’t have any of the other- no one is trusting in all things or skeptical in all things.
Indeed, all of us are trusting to some degree and skeptical to some degree.
We all absorb data and sensory information and adjust our opinions on things to some degree (and in certain areas more than others), and no one orders their lives completely around pure empirical data based on scientific research. To do so would be exhausting and probably impossible.
Sometimes we’re doubters and sometimes we’re believers. We see this in the stories of our accounts of the resurrection, and we see it today.
The same disciples who are lifted up as faithful in the Gospel of John did not believe the women in the gospel of Luke. In the Gospel of Luke, Peter had to see the emptiness of the tomb for himself before he believed. Perhaps Thomas is not so different from Peter after all. Perhaps we’re all a little bit of Peter, and a little bit of doubting Thomas.
Perhaps, the more interesting and important conversation for us to have, both inside ourselves and as a community, is who we trust and how we believe, both in the contexts of our faith and in the rest of our lives.
Today being Earth Day, the primary example we’ll use is about pollution and climate change, but I think it applies to many areas of our lives.
But first, back to our Gospel story.
The story is a familiar one; Jesus visits the disciples, except for Thomas- they tell him that Jesus is back, but Thomas says he’ll only believe if he gets to feel the wounds in Jesus’ hands and in his sides, he will not believe. Jesus comes back again, and allows Thomas to do so, at which point, Thomas believes.
This story comes to us from the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is the fourth gospel and is unique in many ways. Whereas Mark, Matthew, and Luke all tell pretty much the same stories about Jesus- so much so that they’re called the synoptic gospels- that is, they see with the same eyes- syn like synergy and optic like optometry. John, on the other hand, tells many different stories about Jesus, including this one.
Some people like to like to use that as a point against the reliability of the gospels, that as there is no one unified story about Jesus, how can any of the accounts be reliable? To that point I say, have you ever been with a group of friends reminiscing about the old times? Without comparing notes, try to get stories to match about an event from 20 years ago, including exact details. Folks will remember things a little bit differently. Sometimes the stories will match up quite a bit.
But then other times well, there’s that guy who has a point to make about the story, and that’s the Gospel of John. Our Bible reading tells us this explicitly at the end: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
So this theme of doubt and belief run through this passage, run through this gospel. It’s clearly something they found to be central; this writing does not claim to be a dry or objective historical text, it’s intent is persuasive. It recognizes that we are both Thomases and Peters and attempts to speak to us in both of those modes, or perhaps more appropriately, across the spectrum of doubt and faith. The characters in the gospel of John are in many places across this spectrum- from Nicodemus in the third chapter of John to Thomas and Peter and Mary Magdalene in the 20th.
If one of those voices doesn’t work, here’s another, or another.
In many ways this mirrors the crisis of our dying planet.
Our one and only earth that is crying out to us in so many ways, and there are so many ways to hear its cries. There are the multiple reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that have told us again and again for the past twenty years with constantly improving data that the earth is barreling toward a climate future that will be disruptive at best and catastrophic at worst.
But even if you don’t believe that, if the numbers don’t make sense, we can feel it not just in our bones but on our skin down here in South Florida. The number of 90 degree days in the summer has doubled since 1950. The combination of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, combined with warmer waters has caused terrible bleaching across one of Florida’s most precious natural resources, the coral reefs of the keys and Biscayne national park.
Even closer to home, many of us remember the algae bloom, caused by fertilizer runoff and warm water in Biscayne bay in 2020 that turned a beautiful body of water, into a place of stinking death and decay.
The world is crying out to us. Will we hear its cries? Will we be like Thomas, forcing our hands into the open wounds of the earth before we believe its pain? Will we be like Peter who dismissed the stories of the women who found the empty tomb as the idle chatter of women, and only believe the evidence of our own eyes before we believe? Or will we be like those women: Joanna, Mary, the mother of James and Mary Magdalene among others, who only take a moment to realize the paradigm shift of the tomb being empty? To realize that everything had changed, that they were called to tell the story of God. That they were called to preach the good news, of love of God and Love of neighbor, that death will not have the last word.
Let us hear, and let us believe the cries of the earth.