Faith and Doubt

Sunday, June 12, 2022
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

John 10:19-31

Today we are beginning a sermon series on Faith and Doubt.  Faith and Doubt. They seem mutually exclusive. Complete opposites. Or at least they don’t play well together… kind of like oil and water.

But if we are honest, I am guessing all of us have struggled or questioned at some point regarding our faith.

There are times when God is as real as the nose on your face. Gazing into a star-studded night, experiencing the miracle of a newborn baby or sensing God’s presence in prayer or a soaring symphony.

And then there are times when we wonder where God is and if God sees the injustice, hears our prayers or cares about our heartbreak.

Faith and Doubt.

The word for faith in the Greek is pistos.

We tend to think of faith as an intellectual assent to something as true. For example, we have enough scientific evidence to support that the earth is round – so we believe it.   But the Greek word pistos is more than just intellectual assent. It is more akin to trust – something of a “commitment move.”

Here is a great example.

It was June 30, 1859. The place was Niagara Falls. Charles Blondin, a Frenchman, strung up 1100-foot tightwire 160 feet above those roaring falls and entertained crowds of 25,000 with his derring-do. He crossed the falls blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow, on stilts and stood on a chair with only one if its legs balanced on the rope. Can you imagine being this guy’s mother? Oh, my heart.

At one point he asked the crowd “How many of you believe that I can carry the weight of a human on my shoulders across this gorge?”

Everyone shouted and cheered.  Blondin then picked up 180 lb. sack of sand, the weight of a man, and crossed the falls and arrived back safely.

Then Blondin asked, “How many of you believe that I can actually carry a person across the gorge?”  Again, everyone cheered. So he asked, “Which one of you will climb on my shoulders and let me carry you across the Falls?”

Absolute Silence.

Finally, Blondin’s manager, Harry Colcord agreed. Blondin told him, “You must not trust your own feelings and try to balance. You must become part of me, or we will fall.”   The two made it across to the other side safely.

Talk about pistos. The entire crowd intellectually believed that Blondin could carry a man across the Niagara Falls, but only Harry Colcord placed his trust in the character and the skill of Charles Blondin. Mind you, I am sure he climbed onto Blondin’s back amidst a lot of ‘what ifs’ swirling around in his head.

In our scripture passage today, Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him his hands and side. Then Jesus says to Thomas “Do not doubt but believe!”  Do not doubt but believe.

The Greek the word translated doubt is apistos or without trust.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not apistos, but pistos.”

There are other Greek words that are translated doubt in the New Testament, such as distazō – which means to waver, to hover, or to be of two minds.  But this doubting is discouraged only in regard to God’s character.  Questioning ideas, or things is never inherently bad. It keeps us from making hasty decisions or commitments to untrustworthy people.

Questions and Doubts in the context of our faith can be disturbing and difficult, but they can also drive us to search further and deeper in understanding our faith.

I love how Frederick Buechner put it. He says, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Some of the pain associated with doubt can be due to wrong understanding. It might be our own misunderstanding of scripture, but sometimes we have been taught things that cause incredible heartache.  Like we must conjure up more faith to be saved. Or that if we aren’t healed or if our prayers are not effective, it is our fault because we do not have enough faith. Or it is wrong to question what God is up to when the world is thrown into chaos.

I take great comfort in the fact that the Scriptures are full of heroes of the faith – who express their questions and doubts.  The books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms are full of voices despairing over God’s apparent inaction in the face of injustice. God’s promises and presence are repeatedly questioned. And yet there is a trust that God can handle all their doubts and fears.

John the Baptist had doubts. And he was the one who recognized Jesus as the Son of God and proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Yet, when he found himself unjustly imprisoned and facing death, he sent word to Jesus saying, “Are you the one or should we look elsewhere?”

Instead of a rebuke, Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back, and tell John of the miracles you have seen.  Then, declares to the crowd, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (v. 11).

Thomas refused to believe that Jesus appeared to the other disciples. When Jesus came to Thomas, he said “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Jesus did not put him down. Instead, it was as if Thomas’s doubt is the most natural thing in the world.

Faith is not about having all the answers buttoned down. Faith is not airtight certainty, and faith is not the absence of all doubts or questions.  Rather, faith involves trusting God amidst the uncertainty.

Faith is about who or what we choose trust. Because we all place our trust in something or someone.

There will be times in your faith journey that you feel like you are on a tightrope holding on for dear life. You may fear that doubts or questions will send you plummeting into the roaring waters of the Niagara Falls. But if you are hanging on to Jesus you are in good hands. He will bring you to the other side.


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