The Doubt Mobile

John 20:19-31
4/19/09

Years ago I had a Chrysler LeBaron station wagon. I bought the car off the railroad station parking lot in Darien right after my Dodge Aspen caught fire in front of Machlett Labs at the corner of Hope Street and Camp Avenue. I loved that Chrysler. She was caramel colored and had marshmallow seats. My sister-in-law took one look at it and exclaimed, “It’s a Muffie Mobile!” “What is a Muffie Mobile?” I asked. “You know, it’s the kind of car a father buys for his daughter to drive to the tennis club, where she will play doubles with Biff and his friends.” Despite my sister-in-law’s cynical, pejorative moniker, which she declared with absolute certainty, I felt comfortable in my Chrysler LeBaron. The car only had a hundred thousand miles on her and the tires were scarcely worn. It turned out that my sister-in-law was wrong. The Chrysler was not a Muffie Mobile; she was a Doubt Mobile. All of the seals and hoses leaked. She consumed oil, brake fluid and transmission fluid with an unslackable thirst. I doubted she would start. I doubted that she would continue. Sometimes I doubted she would stop. However, she had a really good radio! At that time there was an advertisement on CBS in which the announcer would intone, “In these uncertain times . . .” I was convinced that he was speaking of my car. Still, I was comfortable in my Doubt Mobile because it was a time when I felt that my life was going down hill anyway. When I slouched behind the steering wheel, I doubted I would get where I was trying to go. In an odd way my doubt was faint hope in disguise. My doubt was also a form of denial and control. Because of chronic uncertainty and despair, I always felt engaged and involved in the life of that car. Unfortunately I may have gone into denial a little too much, for one night the car over heated and the engine block cracked. My Doubt Mobile was dragged away in ignominy to LeBlanc’s salvage yard, the Gahanna of the auto world. I repented, turned around and bought a brand new Dodge Caravan and have ridden essentially safe, sound and relatively trouble free for years.

Now I tell this story of my Doubt Mobile partly for the fun of it but also to ease us into considering the role that doubt plays in our lives. The term “doubt” is a perfectly good term. It can be used in a loose or casual sense, or it can have very profound implications. Doubt is often seen as the opposite of belief. But it really isn’t. The opposite of belief is disbelief. Doubt can also be seen as the lack of certainty, but there too the opposite is really not doubt but uncertainty. In a general sense, however, doubt refers to having questions answered, a lack of reasonable consistency, or the lack of certainty that something will or will not happen, is or is not the case.

There is also a kind of profound doubt. This is the doubt that sits at the foot of your bed at night and leers at you. This doubt appears when you look at your existential loneliness. It is the doubt of profound loss, a major crack in your foundation, a seismic fault in your ground of being. It can be prompted by loss of a child, a marriage, a job or of what you thought were absolute certainties. Its companions are despair, anxiety and fear. We all have this kind of doubt to some degree. It is part of the human condition. The issue is not whether or not we have doubt; it is whether or not we are enslaved by it, held in bondage to its tyranny.

The disciples knew profound doubt. Their assumptions had been beaten up; their hopes smashed and any sense of certainty had been assaulted and crushed. Their leader had been crucified as a traitor and they feared “the knock on the door at night.” Their loss and fear had a ready companion: doubt. They were passengers in a vehicle of doubt.

Thomas was not the only one who doubted. The women at the tomb doubted the future. The men doubted the women’s report of the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus, but didn’t recognize him until He called her name. Cleophas and friend did not recognize Jesus as He walked with them on the road to Emmaus until He broke bread with them. Finally Jesus appeared to the disciples as a group — a group minus Thomas.

The Easter resurrection of Jesus and His appearances caused the disciples to turn around, cast away their position of doubt and convicted them that Jesus, the healer, prophet, teacher was after all the Messiah. He was the risen Lord. Things were changed. They were on a new road. They had a new life.

How did they get that certainty? There was no one sure way of receiving faith in the risen Lord then, anymore than there is now. St. John shows us four different examples. 1) The beloved disciple comes to faith when he sees the castoff burial wrappings in the tomb. 2) Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus when He calls her. 3) The disciples as a group recognize Him in the breaking of bread. 4) Thomas believes, not on the basis of what he has been told, but only when he can touch and see for himself.

There is a special significance to Thomas’ experience. Remember, these disciples were living in the time of rabbinic Judaism. Arguing and testing were important and part of their social/religious way of life. Thomas reminds us that Jesus Christ CAN be tested and challenged. Thomas reminds us also that these appearances were not just specters or ghosts. Thomas affirms the incarnation of God in Christ, the real crucifixion of a real body and the resurrection of both Christ’s body and spirit. Hence there is no Gnostic material vs. spiritual dualism here.

Finally, did you not notice that Jesus approaches Thomas? Jesus does not scold Thomas, but rather He encourages Thomas to act and to reach out. Jesus affirms Thomas’ struggle and his new faith. In return it is Thomas who annunciates the Church’s belief that Jesus is the Christ; He is Lord and God. From now on the Church, the vehicle of faith, confesses that God’s activity in Jesus is coincidental and identical.

As you and I continue on our very human, naturally questioning, life’s journeys, what markers are there to help us in dealing with doubt? I think John’s account offers the following six points. 1) Certainty (trust in God, faith, knowing God in Christ) comes in different ways — some dramatic, others more subtle. 2) Doubt is often the beginning of faith. It opens the locked doors of defenses and old habits and forces us to start at ground zero. 3) Doubt rightly takes place (belongs in) the circle of believers. Doubt lived by itself easily slips into despair. 4) The doubter is not a pariah, an outcast, but is affirmed by Jesus. 5) The doubter needs, like Thomas, to reach out. Last of all, doubt belongs at the nexus, the cross roads, of the spiritual and the physical. It affirms our multidimensionness, the complexity of human existence.

Our dance macabre with doubt is part of the minuet of human existence. It never ends. Those of us on our faith journeys do not live in a “doubt free environment.” There are hard time, bumps and bruises, potholes and seemingly dead ends. Even so, the experience of the early Church, the tradition of the saints, the power of the Gospel, the celebration of the sacraments — all these attest to the message of Easter. You and I are not left alone, left immobile at the mercy of doubt. Christ Jesus meets us; the Holy Spirit aids us; we travel in the vehicle of a community of faith; the final victory over death has been won. Christ CAN be tested. He affirms our doubts and asks us to reach out, to touch, and to see. Our life’s journeys are journeys of faith. You and I move onward. Ultimately doubt’s sputtering and lurching are but sound and fury — the nothingness over which God’s creative power and love have triumphed.

Christ is risen! Let us go forth in the name of Christ. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen. -Fr. Gage