Not to blow my own horn, but I'm a reasonably intelligent and well-read guy. I have a Bachelor's Degree in history and English, a Master's in modern European history, and I carried a 4.0 in graduate school. I'm a voracious and eclectic reader, constantly devouring biographies, fascinated with archeology and history, well-versed on politics, and I'm a pretty heavy consumer of pop culture. I know enough about current events to know what news stories are generally factual and which ones are manufactured by extremists and conspiracy theorists. I know a lot about the Constitution, because I teach it. I am fairly well versed in paleontology, and I know local fauna very well, so I guess you can say I have a good grasp of natural history. As my favorite T-shirt proclaims: "That's what I do. I read books and I know things."
Yet I also believe that the universe, and our own world, were created by an immortal, invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient God. I believe that some two thousand years ago, give or take, this God incarnated Himself on this planet and walked among us in the person of a carpenter from Galilee. I believe He taught his followers a divine message, that He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and even raised the dead. I believe He was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. I believe the twenty-seven ancient writings we call the New Testament accurately record His words and deeds, and the teachings He passed on to His disciples. In short, I am a simple and unapologetic Christian.
Many people would say that this means I have committed intellectual suicide, that I have sacrificed rational thought on the altar of faith, and that I am incapable of sound judgment for that reason. They would say my "blind faith" is evidence that I am pathetically seeking comfort and purpose in a cold, Godless universe that gives us neither, at the cost of having a realistic view of life. Others would say this means that I must be a hundred per cent certain of my beliefs at all times, in all circumstances, no matter what, because that is what being a believer is all about. Doubting, in any circumstance, they would call a sin, because to doubt is to admit you don't really believe at all.
Both of those positions are wrong.
First of all, one of the main reasons that I remained a Christian after growing up, leaving home, getting my education, and experiencing life is that Christianity is perhaps the most rational of all the world's religions. As a historian, I recognize the Gospels as good, solid history. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a real, historical person; that He was a greatly influential teacher who amassed a large following in the Roman province of Judea. There is no doubt that He was crucified by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, amid accusations that He was a political revolutionary. There is also no doubt that, within a very short time of His death, His followers were proclaiming boldly, right there in the city of Jerusalem where He was executed, that He had risen and appeared to them. Their belief in His resurrection was so strong that they were willing to endure hardship, pain, and even martyrdom for it without ever recanting. The entire Christian faith rests on the foundation of an empty tomb. Thus, when all the evidence and testimony has been evaluated, one question hangs huge in the air: Where did their belief in a Resurrection come from? In the end, the only explanation that fits all the available evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. And if He rose, He was God, pure and simple. Once one arrives at that conclusion, everything else in the Scriptures falls into place. In the end, Christianity makes more sense than any other religion in the world because its foundations rest on real, verifiable history. It is NOT irrational, although many of its critics and detractors have resorted to incredibly irrational arguments trying to make it go away.
But does that mean I never doubt? Of course not! The only believers who never harbor doubt are those who never really think about what they believe. Let's be honest: Christianity is an incredible proposition. We are wagering our immortal souls on the writings of a group of Jewish converts who lived two thousand years ago. None of us were there; none of us ever saw Jesus in the flesh. No matter how impressive the evidence from history is, accepting Jesus as savior is ultimately a leap of faith. And here is a secret: Doubt is the eternal companion of faith. John the Baptist, even after baptizing Jesus and seeing the Spirit descend on Him like a dove, doubted at the end, languishing in Herod's dungeon. Thomas saw Jesus walk on water and call a man out of the tomb who had been dead for four days, yet when the other disciples told him Jesus had risen, he said: "Unless I see Him with my own eyes, and put my fingers in the nail prints in his palm and put my hand in the side where the spear pierced him, I will not believe."
If such giants of the faith could had moments of doubt, who am I to say that I don't? So yes, there are times that I wonder if I've based my life on a lie. I see all the evil and hatred and bigotry that overruns the world, I listen to the arguments of the atheists and agnostics who make it their life's mission to ridicule all of us who believe, and sometimes a still, small voice in my head whispers: "What if they are right?" Doubt is a natural part of life for any believer in Jesus. We are human; we are imperfect creatures, and certainty is elusive in a broken world.
But this is the key: Don't let doubts swallow your faith. Thomas scoffed at the report of the other disciples that Jesus was alive, but when he saw Jesus face to face he fell to his knees and cried: "My Lord and My God!" John the Baptist's disciples brought back to him a personal message from Jesus, and an eyewitness account of the miracles Jesus was performing before the multitudes, to pull him out of his dark night of the soul. When you doubt, go back and read the words of Jesus Himself. Start with John's Gospel, the most beautiful and persuasive of all the Gospel narratives. Turn to the Psalms; their authors experienced anger, doubt, and heartbreak, too. They cried out: 'How long, O Lord?' on more than one occasion. Above all, pray. Take your doubts to God, and lay them at His feet. Ask Him for help, ask Him for the courage to believe; ask Him to help you find your faith again, and He will do it. Doubts are inevitable, but they are not irreversible. You can overcome them, and find your way to belief. God rewards those who seek Him.
I work among teenagers, and I know that it's a very tough time to be a young person and a Christian in America right now. This next week, I am starting a new study group that will meet at lunch on Fridays. I'm calling it "The Thomas Club." I am encouraging my kids to come to me with their questions and their doubts, and I hope to guide them towards the answers. It's a big undertaking, and I know that the consequences may be eternal. But I have learned a few things about faith and doubt in fifty five trips around the sun, and I'm hoping to be able to pass along a few bits of wisdom that I have acquired, and above all, to point them to the One who shines above and beyond every doubt, every question, and every crisis of faith that the human mind can contrive.
For you see, the flip side of doubt is faith, and faith is what gives us hope.
So I hope.
I hope kids will show up Friday.
I hope the Thomas Club will be a success.
I hope that I can answer the questions that are brought to me.
I hope that these kids will realize that ultimately, hope is stronger than despair, and faith is stronger than doubt.
I hope . . . because I BELIEVE.