Doubt is not the Opposite of Faith
“Well, what do you expect?” A fair question we might hear during the course of daily conversation, and a fair one on Easter morning.
In our jaded society today, filled with cynicism, we more often hear the expression “hope for the best, and expect the worst”. We could apply that question to the women – Jesus’ friends and supporters – who traveled early that morning of the first day of the week to the tomb. They brought spices and perfumes, hoping or expecting that someone would come to their aid and remove the stone from his tomb so they could anoint his body. They came with the idea of honoring Jesus and his legacy as teacher, prophet, and healer.
We can easily surmise that they were in a somber and dejected, depressed mood, expecting at best to find someone out for an early morning walk who had the strength to help them with the stone blocking the entrance.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, they found the tomb open. They went in, expecting what? To find Jesus’ body. Instead were shocked when greeted by angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. Terrified, face to the ground in fear, they recalled Jesus’ own words: that he would rise on the third day. So they left the tomb, running back to the disciples, expecting their good news to be believed with great rejoicing.
They had been reminded of what Jesus told them to expect – time and time again, recorded in scripture.
In Matthew 16:21, Jesus said he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
In John 2:19-22, he spoke to the Jews about raising the temple (meaning his body) in three days – which the disciples also remembered after he was raised from the dead. Nevertheless, his followers didn’t really expect it to happen.
What do you suppose the women expected from the disciples when they reported what had taken place at the tomb? Certainly not the response they received. The disciples, we learn, thought the women were “leros” which means delirious.
The words recorded in scripture were interpreted by the disciples as “an idle tale.” The disciples didn’t expect to hear this crazy report, and all but Peter dismissed it. Peter wondered, though – and instead he went back to the tomb, stooped, looked in, saw the linen cloths by themselves, and went home not believing – but instead “amazed” at what had happened.
How about other examples in the New Testament where we heard about those who didn’t get what they could have expected (or logically deserved)? Earlier this month we visited that most famous of all the parables, the Prodigal Son. The younger son leaves the country, blows his entire inheritance on wine, women, and song, finally wakes up one day on his way to his job of feeding the pigs and decides he’d at least have a full belly if his father would take him back as a servant. He certainly received more than he expected – a hero’s welcome, new clothes, jewelry, and a banquet in his honor.
And what about the disciples gathered for that annual celebration 50 days from the Passover? Do you suppose they expected what would take place that morning? Nowhere in scripture is there recorded that the 120 followers of Jesus who were gathered expected to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and ability to speak in tongues to spread the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior.
Belief in the resurrection didn’t come easy for Jesus’ followers. The first eye-witnesses were dismissed as crazies. Peter had to go take a look for himself and came away not fully convinced. But when it did sink in – when his disciples saw him, spoke to him, walked with him, and ate with him – they got it. They had faith in Jesus as their Savior and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It’s an accepted principle that doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt and questioning help us and our children build faith in things that cannot be seen yet believed. In fact, doubt can be considered an essential ingredient of faith. In Hebrews 11:1 faith is described as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
What are your expectations around Easter? The news of the risen Christ is indeed one that is better than we expect or deserve based on our own merits. The message calls us from our old belief in death to a new belief in life. Yes, belief in Jesus takes faith and courage. But we know that with God we can receive better than we expect. Love and life are stronger than fear and death. Today we are reminded that with God, anything is possible. As Paul recorded in the fifth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” May we be faithful creatures of that new creation, living our lives in love of God and one another.