“Recovering Skeptic” is a sermon interpretation of John 20: 19-31.
Thomas was the type of person who had lots of questions. Doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith.
Let me give you some illustrations of this. As you know, we pastors teach confirmation to your kids and some of your kids can be at a phase in their lives that they “bug” us and this is normal. Some kids bug us because they chatter too much and need their lips sewn up. Other kids bug us because they are a little more snarly and rebellious and refuse to do their homework. And still other kids bug us because they have thousand and one questions about God, Jesus, the Bible and every aspect of the Christian faith. One of the worst kids in my memory was a kid named Duane who had thousands of questions about God, the Bible, Christ, etc. That was some twenty years ago now and I feel that there is justice that he is preaching in a church this morning as a pastor of a congregation in Spokane, Washington. The thousands of questions and doubts that he had as a youth were leading him to a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. And that is what doubts and questions often do: they lead us to a deeper and larger faith.
Centuries ago, Copernicus doubted that the earth was the center of the universe and Christians round him were using the Bible and quoting the Bible to prove that the earth was the center of the universe. His doubt of their reading of the Bible lead him to a larger and deeper understanding of the Christian faith.
Centuries ago, during the time of Columbus, certain Christians were using the Bible and quoting the Bible that the earth was flat and had edges and if you sailed too far, your boat would fall over the edge off the earth. Columbus doubted the Christianity he had been taught, and his doubts led to a deeper and larger faith.
I personally believe it is important for many but not all Christians to outgrow their Sunday school theology. Not their faith in Jesus that they learned before they ever went to Sunday school. But some Christians still have a theology and thought pattern about God and the Bible that reflects the wooden literalism of Sunday school years. Such Christian people occasionally try to force their Sunday school theology, not only on their children but on me. In my life, I am grateful that I have had other Christian teachers who have led me to a theology that, from my point of view, is deeper and wider than the theology I learned in the basement of the church in Jackson, Minnesota, so many years ago. The childlike faith in Christ that I learned before Sunday school is still the most important thing I know in life.
II would like to share an autobiographical sketch for a moment. I have been taught not to do this, but I will. I was born into a Christian family, was baptized as an infant, and grew up in the faith. My mother and father were sporadic church members. In ninth grade, my parents were having troubles with the family business and each other; and at Bible camp, I experienced a conversion. My doubts went away for three years, but my doubts fully blossomed and flowered when I was in college. I took several courses in Comparative Religion, Anthropology and Psychology. I became a walking question mark about God. No matter what it was about God, Christ, the Bible and the Christian faith, I questioned it. The essential question was this: did God create man or did man create God? I basically answered that question with “man created God.” With Sigmund Freud and his book, THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION, I concluded that man created God so that we humans would feel more secure with our mortality in our time here on earth.
As I finished college, I was still a walking question mark, but thought that I still wanted to be a pastor. Yes, I know that was weird, but I wanted to be a religious social worker or a religious psychologist. I was required to write a paper for the seminary and tell them my beliefs. I did. I told them I had lots of questions about God and Jesus, didn’t really believe in them but as symbols, but I wanted to come to the seminary and explore these questions. The seminary turned me down and sent me a rejection slip. I was surprised that the seminary had some standards and so I wrote the paper again, using the right buzz words that would get me into the seminary. It worked. I got into the seminary and studied hard the knotty questions of my life: God, Jesus, the Bible, the miracles, virgin birth, the resurrection, evolution, and every other question that was bugging me. I don’t know how it happened but over time, the Holy Spirit got into me in such a way that my questions and doubts were addressed if not answered and my doubts and questions began to fade into the woodwork, like a scar in a tree fades over time. I believe that my questions and doubts and skepticism led me into a deeper and wider faith.
In other words, today I am standing before you as a pastor who is a recovered skeptic. That is important. Not all Christians are recovered skeptics. Their faith was wonderfully simple and pure throughout most of their lives. Not me. I am a recovered skeptic and this is important. By analogy, if you are having troubles with alcohol, it is important to be in conversation with a recovered alcoholic. A recovered alcoholic knows the nuances and subtleties of argument of an alcoholic. He knows their thought patterns and habits and weak points. So also with a recovered skeptic. I believe that I can deal with many people in our society who are skeptical about God, Christ, the Bible and the Christian faith. I sense I know their arguments, their logic, their reasoning, and I can be helpful in that situation.
That is also true of Thomas. Thomas, too, was a recovered skeptic. Thomas was enormously skeptical of the news he heard about the resurrected Christ and he voiced his skepticism. At the close of the story, Thomas falls on his knees and says, “Christ, you are my Lord and God.” I believe that the story of Thomas is a story of a recovered skeptic.
Jesus and the Bible says: Thomas, stop doubting and believe. There is a time in all of our lives where God says to us, “It is time to stop your doubting. It is time to move past your doubting. It is time to believe and experience the power of belief.”
In the Book of Job, Job went on doubting, complaining and questioning God for thirty eight chapters and God finally got tired of Job’s doubting and said, “Be quiet Job. I am tired of your wailing and doubting. Be quiet and believe.”
As a recovered skeptic, I have discovered that there comes a time in life where we begin to doubt our doubts, question our questions, and become skeptical of our skepticisms. We start to understand that our doubts, questions and skepticisms are a phase of our life and that we actually become fixated with our questions, doubts and skepticisms. That was true of me. I had become fixated on my doubts and questions for about ten years, and I called that reason, but it wasn’t reason but only a phase in my life where I was a walking question mark. I discovered that Christians can become fixated on their Sunday school theology and not move beyond it; and I also discovered that a person can become fixated on their doubts and not move beyond them. I gradually discovered that my doubts and questions were becoming a waste of time and waste of life and waste of intellectual and spiritual energy. These questions and doubts were beginning to fade like a knife carving made into the bark of a tree. They weren’t so important to me anymore.
At the same time, I became aware that there is power to believing as Jesus wanted to believe. That there is a power to believing that is not weighed down and slowed down by doubts and questions. Jesus said to many people, “Great is your faith.” He said that a hundred times in the Bible. He never once said, “I commend you for your great questioning.” There is power to faith, power to move mountains and carry momentous burdens. Jesus said that: ‘If you have the power of faith and do not doubt, you will be able to move mountains, do great works of love and move mountainous burdens.”
Yes, there is great power in a life that believes in Christ, loves in Christ, walks in Christ.
Thomas, after all that questioning and doubting and skepticism, came to the time when he fell on his knees and he said. My Lord and My God. Those are the words of a recovered skeptic!
Sermon by Edward Markquart