Doubt and faith during a pandemic

Tomorrow is the Second Sunday of Easter. The gospel that will be read recalls how in the evening of the first day of the week after the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the disciples met, locked up in the room afraid. Jesus suddenly appeared and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the other disciples told him about Jesus, he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The Gospel tells us about the fear and doubts which the disciples harboured after the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Even when they learned from Mary Magdalene the startling news that she saw the risen Christ, the disciples made themselves scarce only to meet a week later. Thomas’ doubt is not unique; the disciples all shared and experienced his lingering doubt about Jesus.

And what of us? Who amongst us has not wondered in the deep recesses of our souls whether Christ has indeed risen and is truly present amongst us? Is God really with us when we are fearful, much like the disciples, afraid that the virus, the invisible enemy, will one day knock at our locked doors? Does a loving God really exist when so many are sick and dying?

Above all, when our loved ones die alone and when we cannot celebrate their lives through the proper rites, how can we not cry: My God, My God, why have you forgotten us?

Lingering doubt, we experience, not only in these extraordinary times of the coronavirus, but every time we feel alone, desolate and whenever we encounter hardships in life. Like Thomas, we feel the need for a sign, to have a personal encounter with Jesus in order to believe.

Perhaps in the midst of doubt, we can find consolation to know that we are not alone.  Thomas and the apostles all  lived with Jesus for three years, witnessed his many miracles, and yet they doubted.

We tend to regard doubt negatively. But Jesus does seem to be more tolerant of doubters than sinners. When Jesus saw Thomas, he did not reproach nor condemn him but instead relented to his wishes – allowing Thomas to touch the  wounds  on his feet and the wound on his side.

It is not only Thomas who doubted, in fact, the scripture is full of personages who doubted God; Job doubted God’s goodness, Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s promise of a child; Moses doubted God could make him an instrument to lead Israel out of Egypt, Gideon doubted God could use him to turn the tide against Israel’s oppressors, and the apostles overcame their doubt of the risen Lord to become martyrs and saints.

It is what we do with doubt that enriches our faith. There are things not quantifiable beyond the grasp of our finite mind. But doubt can co-exist with faith if despite the absence of physical evidence of the existence of God, we are still willing to take the risk and believe in the unseen. Faith is saying – I cannot prove my faith through empirical evidence, but in the face of Jesus’s claims as written in the Scriptures, and my spiritual encounters with the risen Lord, I can wager even my life to this belief.

Even in the absence of physical proof, we are willing to stake our life to what we believe in. That is real faith. Only then can Jesus say to us – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It is in the crucible of suffering and doubt that one’s faith comes to perfection.

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