Stories of doubt

Faith…comes only when the outward fact penetrates to the inner heart of man and takes possession of him there — and this is the work of the Spirit. (George Hendry)

Since Easter we have been listening to stories of doubt in our gospels. On Easter Day we had the ending of Mark’s gospel which finishes at 16: 8. The three women are so afraid that they flee from the empty tomb and tell no one the message they have been given. On the Second Sunday of Easter, we went to John’s gospel and read of Thomas’ doubts. On the Third Sunday of Easter we were in a third gospel: that of Luke. We read of Jesus’ appearance to the apostles in the Upper Room on the same day he met the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. Again, it is a story of doubt – and a lot of other emotions. In a few verses we see terror, fear, disbelief, hesitation and distrust. But we also see joy and wonder (Luke 24: 41). It is hardly surprising that seeing a dead man walking, the disciples react as they do. But this theme of doubt continues to run through the Resurrection stories. If we were to read the end of Matthew’s gospel next week (and we are not – it is back to John) when Jesus gives his disciples what is called “the Great Commission,” we would find that whilst the disciples worshipped Jesus, some of them doubted (Matt 28: 17). Doubt continues. But it is to these mixed up and confused disciples that Jesus hands over his mission. He does not seem to be anxious about their doubts.
Personally, I find these stories of confused emotions very refreshing. I think we sometimes teach and preach the resurrection as though everyone was in a very dark place and then they saw Jesus and then everything was fine. Rather it appears that the fact of the resurrection and its meaning had slowly to penetrate into the hearts of the disciples. In Luke’s gospel Jesus twice “opens the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures,” as having always been about him, i.e. about the true nature of God. Although for one or two like Mary Magdalene and Thomas the revelation is sudden and absolute – “My Lord and my God,” says Thomas, when he sees the resurrected Jesus for himself; for others there is a slower growth into understanding. And why would we think it could be other? Now the disciples have to comprehend all that God is in Jesus backwards through the resurrection and the crucifixion. Everything they thought they understood about Jesus; his teaching and actions; everything they thought about themselves and life; all has to be revisited in the light of these world changing events. They are at the beginning of a learning curve that will continue through their lives as they seek to understand and apply all Jesus has taught them.
What is demanded of the disciples (and of each generation of believers) is what Paul calls the renewal of the mind, or in Greek metanoia, a complete change of mind. But this change of mind is not purely intellectual but a deep, life-shifting change of heart and being. The disciples themselves have to undergo a kind of death and resurrection, and it takes time. Nothing will ever be the same again and they recognise it. No wonder alongside the joy there is confusion and doubt. That is real and very, very normal.