Faith, Doubt, and Just Getting By
At the Mountain
Eleven disciples gathered together at a mountain in Galilee. Uncertainty was the theme of their lives. They experienced emotions too difficult to put into words. Their rabbi/teacher/friend had been executed, but now there were stories of new life, rebirth, resurrection. How is this possible? How is it that one who was killed in front of hundreds of people is now alive? How is it that a tomb that once held a body is now empty?
That’s what everybody thought. No, that’s what everybody knew. Even though they had seen people raised from the dead before (their friend Lazarus, rumors of a small child in a distant place, etc.), the one who performed these miracles was now the one who was dead.
And yet, they gathered. They were told to go to a mountain in Galilee. Mountains were interesting places in those days. Thought to be the best place to see God simply because it was higher up. It wasn’t unusual to see altars built on the mountains. The gospel writer Matthew tells of a few times when something important happened on a mountain; things like the Sermon the Mount, the Transfiguration, even Golgotha (Calvary) is at least a hillside. The mountain are still beautiful. What better place to take in all the splendor of God’s creation than observing the serene for miles and miles atop a mountain?
The women first encounter the risen Christ. Of course, in those days, women were not considered reliable sources. If anything, knowing that, it adds something special to the account. The gospel writers knew that women’s testimony would not pass the most basic of legal standards, and yet, they are included, featured prominently, in the account.
The eleven disciples gather at the mountain in Galilee. Eleven. Throughout much of Jesus’ ministry, it was the Twelve. No more. Eleven. One was lost. Whether it was to his own greed, to the trappings of the power he thought he would gain, or for some unknown other reason that had no reason at all, one was no longer with them. It’s a reminder that even those closest to Jesus faced temptation. And sometimes, they failed… miserably.
But, then, the author tells something significant.
And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted — Mt 28:17 (ESV)
Not necessarily the best translation, honestly. It gives us the sense that there were some who were 100% on board, while there were others who were not.
So many times, we have seen it throughout Jesus’ ministry, the disciples struggled with belief. I supposed if we had seen some of the things that Jesus did, as recorded in the gospels, we would have too. Some things, even when you see them, you have a hard time believing.
The New American Bible translates this a little differently, giving a nod to the difficulty of the original text.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted — Mt 28:17 (NAB)
That changes our perspective, doesn’t it? Worship and doubt. Side by side. Simultaneous. Together.
Worship and Doubt
Too often, people consider doubt to be the enemy of faith. But is it really? I don’t know if I want to go down that road.
I don’t think doubt is the opposite of faith. Maybe certainty is.
I would be lying if I said there were never times when doubt crept into my own life. What am I doing here? If somebody came from the outside with no knowledge of the history or context, this would all seem a little crazy, wouldn’t it?
While there is beauty in liturgy, perhaps this is where I see it the most. A hundred people, listening to one, responding with a single voice. It could come off as weird. However, for those who participate, the words join us with those who came before, and those who will come after. As I said, there is beauty in liturgy. Not because of what it is in itself, but because of what it means. It means we aren’t the first, nor are we the last.
Rather, we are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our congregations, bigger than our denominations, bigger than anything we can imagine. We are part of the Church Universal that spans geography, race, gender, even time. Sharing in the liturgy together is a participation in the cosmic reality that surrounds us and shapes us, it creates and re-creates us.
Sure, it gets formulaic at times. Certainly, we go through the motions, especially when our heads and hearts are in a different place than our bodies and spirit.
In that transcendent moment of worship, it would be easy for us to step outside of ourselves, look around and think, “Is this real, or am I part of some great hoax?”
Opponents of faith have no problems calling BS on the religious beliefs and rituals. Oddly enough, displaying their own special kind of faith in their lack thereof. They lean into the doubt. But we are called to lean into the worship, even when the doubt exists.
In his journal, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, recalls a conversation he had with Peter Bohler during which Bohler says, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Just Getting By
Some days are easier than others. When life is treating you kindly, when love is in the air, when the matters of this world are no matter at all, faith is easy. In truth, we run more of a risk of leaving faith behind when things are going well because we think we have it all figured out. We’re so smart that way.
But other times, we are struggling. We are just getting by.
A year and a half ago, I lost my best friend. He went in for surgery. A few days later, while in recovery, he went into cardiac arrest and passed away. We were already heading to Indianapolis for an event. We had stopped at a gas station so my daughter could go to the bathroom. While I waited for her, I checked my email and saw a message from the church, telling the world he passed away. I held it together long enough to get my daughter dressed and back to the car. His mother called me ten minutes later. I couldn’t even get the words out when I called my mom to let her know. Tears are welling up now, just thinking about that day.
I was new to my church at the time, having only been there for a month. The week of his funeral, a prominent member of my congregation and in the community passed away, another friend lost his daughter that day as well. For a couple of months, I was just getting by.
I won’t say I was doubting my faith, but I had some questions. Well, usually just the one: why? When we are just getting by, we want to know the reasons why things are the way they are. During that time, I discovered that we don’t always get answers, but we can always worship.
Worship is not about certainty. Worship is not about having it all together. Worship is not about life going smoothly. Worship is about God, the transcendent reality when everything seems out of control.
Doubt may mean having questions about faith, but it doesn’t always mean we are questioning faith. Healthy doubt leads us on a search for the truth. God isn’t afraid of the truth. God is the truth.
I don’t believe our doubts can overshadow the work of God in our lives. We may not be able to recognize it for a season… or for many seasons… but God is always at work. In us. Through us.
Do you have doubts? That’s okay. Seek the Truth, and while you are searching, don’t be afraid to worship.