Doubting Thomas: Redefining Doubt

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Scripture Reading
John 20:19-31 (NRSV)

Would you believe me if I told you that water is not a conductor but rather an insulator of electricity?

Probably not, right? Telling you that water does NOT conduct electricity goes against what you’ve learned from authority figures in your formative years, be it your grade school science teacher, or your concerned parents when they warned you not to ouch electric appliances with wet hands. The information that water is a conductor is so widespread that it has now become common sense for the majority, if not for everyone of us. 

It’s so widespread that you can even find this in popular media: remember that time when fire bender Mako defeated the water bending genius, Ming Hwa, with a bolt of lightning directer at her water tentacles? 

In most people’s minds, water is indeed a conductor. But that’s what most people get wrong. Contrary to popular belief, water is, in fact, an insulator. 

It is not water itself that conducts electricity, but the impurities dissolved in water that do. Be it the sodium in your Sodium Chloride, or calcium, or magnesium, or just about any ion whose charge allows for the flow of electricity through the water. Are you liking my chemistry lesson, so far? 

Kidding aside, this tidbit of chemistry demonstrates our tendency to create and believe truths based on our limited perception and limited understanding of things. Without fully knowing, without fully understanding, without getting the bigger, if not the entire, picture, we have this particular tendency to create and believe truths based on how we, as individuals, experience things. 

The people of long ago relied on these limited experiences-turned-“truths” for their very survival. 200,000 years ago, that was the case for our species. One person dying after eating a certain mushroom is more than enough for every other person to create and disseminate a new truth — that that mushroom is poisonous. Back then, it was a matter of survival. The humans of 200,000 years ago did not have the luxury of checking and understanding whether it was really the mushroom that’s poisonous, or if it were the presence of other pathogens on the surface that could have been easily removed by a simple rinsing at the river. In other words, the humans of that age did not have the luxury of doubt. I’m inviting everyone to take a look at today’s gospel with a different perspective, to dive deeper for a new understanding of the story of Doubtful Thomas. 

The story takes us days after Jesus’s death, with Jewish leaders on the high alert to round up and capture the followers of Jesus. The disciples, save for my boy, Doubtful Thomas, were said to have gathered together, their doors locked, when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, bringing them peace, breathing into them the holy spirit, and letting them know that they now have the ability to forgive anyone’s sins. 

Now my boy Doubtful Thomas, as we have read earlier, was given a firsthand account of this. Take note, it was not hearsay. It was not some chika from some Marites that reached Thomas’ ears, but the firsthand account of the 10 apostles and other disciples he spent a big chunk of his time with. Surely, that should lend some level of confidence to the veracity of the story, right? But, no! Doubtful Thomas, and as I am sure you already know the reason for such moniker, remained, well, doubtful. Skeptical. Incredulous, even. 

Not only did he verbalize his doubts, he also demanded hard, empirical proof as a condition for his belief. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Well, well, well? Isn’t he demanding?! I cannot say this for certain, but maybe, maybe some eyebrows were raised at Thomas for demanding that. 

How dare he doubt? “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This was the main point of the countless sermons I’ve listened to when I was growing up. Faith is inexplicable. Faith is beyond our limited capacity for understanding. Faith is something that just is. Just believe. Stop asking questions. It just is. 

These words tormented 7-year-old me to no end. I had so many questions. I longed to understand. But I, like other people who share this experience, was made to feel like I’m committing the biggest and most unforgivable sin of all time… that I’m not supposed to doubt. I was made to feel like doubting is the opposite of having faith. 

I was made to feel that the greatest gift we can give to God is to have blind faith. Unfortunately, this dogma of blind faith easily coincides with our tendency as human beings to believe truths based on how we experience things. More unfortunately so, compared to the humans of 200,000 years ago, we have continuously developed more and more sophisticated means of both oral and textual communication, thus making it easier to proliferate our created truths to wider and wider audiences, which in turn become generally accepted truths. What examples do we have for this? Let’s see… 

Oh, I know one: homosexuality is a sin! Don’t question it, just believe! After all, who are you to doubt the interpretations of the Roman Catholic Church? They are the authority figure. They say that homosexual feelings and attractions, when acted upon are sinful and disordered, so it must be true. And faith alone should be enough of an explanation for us to accept that as the truth. 

I have another one — that women should submit to their husbands because that’s what Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, instructed us to do. Who are we to ask about the accuracy of the way that line was translated?

Here’s an even better one: abstinence, and not condoms, is the answer to the HIV pandemic. People should wait until after they are blessed through the holy sacrament of matrimony before they consummate their love for each other, and that they must only do so for the purposes of procreation. Doing the opposite is akin to giving in to the mortal sin of lust, which is sure to give you a one way ticket to eternal damnation in hell. 

Ay, ano yan?! Sorry! Hindi ko na-delete. Cute si koya pero… never mind. 

Again, the church figures say so. An authority figure tells you so. How dare you doubt? Just believe it. It is the truth. Even sadder still, this whole situation goes beyond faith and religion.

Just a few years ago, I’m sure you’d remember passionate testimonies of some Lolo’s and Lola’s of how the Philippines was in its golden era back when the disgraced dictator Ferdinand Marcos was in power. These were Lolo’s and Lola’s who were there, who were alive at that time. And their experiences, no matter how limited and incomplete they may be, became truth. After all, they are authority figures, they were firsthand witnesses, who are we to doubt? There have been attempts to explain why human beings have this particular tendency. 

The story of the 5 Monkeys Experiment comes to mind. If you’re not familiar with this, let me give you a quick summary. According to the story, one psychologist conducted an experiment with monkeys. He had them locked up in this big cage with a ladder at the center. On top of the ladder sat a bunch of bananas. 

Now, whenever one monkey reaches the topmost rung of the ladder, the remaining four monkeys would get sprayed with ice cold water. The remaining four monkeys supposedly associated this icy water as punishment for the action of the first monkey, and consequently beat him for this. This kept happening until it reached the point where if any monkey even dared to try to climb the ladder, the rest of the monkeys would stop him and beat him up. After ilang months, pinalitan ni Mr. Psychologist ang isa sa limang monkeys ng bagong matsing. Itago na lang natin ang bagong matsing sa pangalang RODRIGO. Bilang bago, hindi knowing ni Rodrigo ang icy water punishment kapag may nagtry umakyat sa hagdan. And being the monkey that he is, Rodrigo, naturally, tried to climb the ladder in an attempt to get his hands on some yellow bananas. This time, HOWEVER, Mr. Psychologist did NOT spray icy water on the four remaining original monkeys. Pero kahit na wala pang punishment na icy water, MATIK na for the four original monkeys na sugurin at bugbugin si Rodrigo. The learned behavior was so strong that they ended up beating Rodrigo even without the icy water punishment.

After some time, pinalitan na naman ni Mr. Psychologist ang isa pa sa natitirang four original monkeys. Itago na lang natin ang second NEW money na ito sa pangalang FERDY JR. Bilang unggoy din siya, no, as expected, nagtangka din si Ferdy Jr. na akyatin ang ladder para kumuha ng saging. Guess what happened? Kahit wala ulet icy water punishment, yung tatlong original monkeys ay sinugod at binugbog si Ferdy Jr. And that’s not all! Rodrigo ALSO joined the three original monkeys and himself beat Ferdy Jr kahit na never naman niya na-experience maparusahan ng icy water spray! Kaloka si Rodrigo, di ba?! Mr. Psychologist thought that the learned behavior of beating anyone who tries to climb the ladder was also passed on to Rodrigo, and Rodrigo accepted it without question. Rodrigo couldn’t ask questions; he is a monkey after all. EME.

The experiment went on until all the original 5 monkeys were replaced with new ones. And despite this new set of monkeys never having experienced the pain of being sprayed with icy water continuously, they now hold this belief that whoever tries to climb the ladder to get bananas must be stopped and beaten. People say that if the monkeys could talk, they would probably say this: we don’t know why we’re beating anyone who tries to climb the ladder, but that’s just the way it is. Stop asking questions. Just follow. 

This story has been used over and over again in the corporate world to demonstrate how cultures, and in their perspectives, how organizations tend to keep doing things without questioning or revisiting the reason behind it, even long after that reason ceases to exist. (Intersol Group, May 2020) Funnily enough, this story is FAKE. And if I had blind faith and hadn’t doubted the authority figures who kept telling me this story, I would not have found out that it was.

Now, we don’t have enough time for me to summarize the actual study but I guess, fake or not, the message it tells us is quite relevant to the point I want to leave everyone today. Jesus, in the story of John, did not abhor the doubts expressed by Thomas. He did not admonish Thomas for his doubts. On the contrary, Jesus entertained Thomas’ doubts.

“Put your finger here; see my hands.” Jesus said. “Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”

He humored Thomas’ demand for empirical evidence. He allowed Thomas to see and feel and experience him. “Stop doubting and believe.”

In response to this, in response to his experience of Jesus, Doubting Thomas could not help but proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Out of his doubt and through his lived experience of Jesus came a powerful confession of his faith. A faith that is not blind, but rooted in his certainty of the risen Christ. (Rev. Phil Hobbs of South Bay United Church) According to Reverend Phil Hobbs of South Bay United Church, Doubting Thomas was the first disciple to profess his faith that way. This, for me, confirms that doubt is not the absence of faith. On the contrary, doubt is that yearning for certainty. The burning desire to have those questions inside of you answered, to discover, to feel Jesus, to experience the divine. Having doubts does not mean we are not faithful.

Having doubts, at least for me, is crucial and a vital part of our journey towards authentic faith — a journey that ends in us powerfully professing out faith the way Thomas did. “My Lord and my God!” There is nothing wrong with doubting. In fact, I urge all of you to doubt. Doubt and start your journey towards a more authentic faith. Let us do away with blind faith. Let’s yearn for that deeper connection, a stronger type of faith that can only be developed with the certainty we can get from experiencing God. Do not get me wrong; I am not advocating for us to doubt until we see a miracle the way Thomas did. I am not saying that we should only believe when we finally see Jesus for ourselves and put our fingers in the holes on his hands and feet.

God can be experienced anywhere, even in the most unlikeliest of places. We all have our doubts. As part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I have long doubted if I were part of God’s children. I was made to believe that my existence was a sin, and that my expressions of love was an abomination. Luckily, I did not have blind faith. I refused to believe that God’s love for me was conditional upon the gender of the person I choose to love. I kept looking for experiences that will give me that certainty. I almost lost hope, truth be told.

My doubts, which were originally anchored in my desire to discover and experience God, was slowly turning to resentment and disbelief. But just like what I said a while ago, God can be experienced anywhere, even in the most unlikeliest of places.

For me, everything started in that small and quite old Afonso De Oro Building in Mandaluyong City. For me, I got my certainty that God is my God too, that I am God’s child, too, when Jack invited us to partake in the fight against religious oppression, or when Pastor Joseph laid his hand on my head to, “Pray the Gay to Stay,” or that moment when Mariz and Mikay exchanged their wedding vows, or whenever I talk to the members of MCC without feeling the need to act and pretend to be somebody that I’m not.

I did not get to see Jesus, nor did I get to touch the holes on his hands. But through MCC I got my very own experience of the divine, and this experience was made more profound by my doubts.

I am ending my preaching today with the invitation to do away with blind faith, to always question and to employ critical thinking, not only in our faith and religion, but also in our political choices and in the ways we participate in society. I am inviting you to doubt. 

At dahil gusto kong panindigan ang pagiging RESIDENT ACRONYM MAKER ng MCC, I also want to leave you this in the hopes that this will help you redefine doubt: What does it mean to be like Doubtful Thomas? 

D – Desire for understanding.

O – Openness to exploration.

U – Unwavering trust in Christ.

B – Biblical inquiry.

T – Transcending uncertainty.

Thank you for having me today. Once again, this is Dale, signing off and leaving you with the challenge to doubt and start your journey towards authentic faith. 

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