Honest Doubt or Stubborn Skepticism?

What’s the Difference?

I am also guilty of unfairly labeling Thomas as a doubter. Growing up in a church where pastors, speakers, Bible study leaders, and other Christian friends always associated the name Thomas with the word doubt, I was influenced.

Well, in a sense, that would be just technically natural. We remember Thomas by his famous words,

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 it.

His statement is found in the famous story of Jesus’ appearance in the midst of his doubting disciples after his resurrection.

But why do we single out Thomas, as if he was the only one who doubted? Didn’t every one of the remaining eleven disciples doubted Jesus’ resurrection? How about Mary while standing near Jesus grave? Didn’t she ask the gardener about the location of Jesus’ body—not recognizing (perhaps because of doubt) that the gardener she was asking was actually the Jesus she was looking for?

Yes, Thomas doubted. But wasn’t it an honest doubt?

As far as I observe, the one difference I see between Thomas and the other disciples is that Thomas vocally expressed his doubt. Like the suffering Job of the Old Testament, Thomas expressed his feeling with full honesty—a healthy characteristic that is expected of a relationship—the same characteristic that made Job become vindicated by God instead of his friends.

Thomas’ words is an expression of an honest doubt. In contrast, those Pharisees who ask Jesus tricky questions are stubborn skeptics. They don’t really look for answers. They look for ways to prove that they are better than anyone else. They are driven by arrogance not by a searching soul.

An honest doubter is thirsty. An answer quenches her thirst. A stubborn Skeptic on the other hand, is an addict: no amount of intake will satisfy—any answer we provide seems to worsen his condition. An honest doubter is confused; a stubborn skeptic has already made up his mind.

Perhaps honest doubt is a sign of genuine perplexity while stubborn skepticism is a sign of an arrogant disbelief.

I think, one very obvious difference between honest doubt and stubborn skepticism is what happens after one receives an answer. The honest doubter is transformed into becoming a fearless proclaimer—My Lord and my God!”; while the stubborn skeptic looks for another loophole, for another way to challenge, for another trick.

By the way, wasn’t Thomas the only one in the four gospels who proclaimed that Jesus is God? Perhaps that’s what happens when we deal with our honest doubts carefully.

When I encounter honest doubters, I am compassionate enough to help. They honestly thirst for answers. But the moment I notice someone asking tricky questions like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, I just ignore them . . . for they will never be satisfied. They are not looking for answers, they are looking for arguments. I don’t want to waste my time explaining to a stubborn skeptic.

It’s okay to doubt. For it is impossible to grow faith without the element of doubt. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a six-feet tall plant, faith grows in the soil of doubt. There is one danger, though, when we are in time of doubt: we are prone to be attracted to the skeptics’ arguments.

I have observed people who when facing doubt, they immerse themselves deeply into more doubting questions, they entertain other doubters statements and they welcome skeptics’ arguments. No wonder they end up being skeptic as well. No wonder they never recover.

When a person is cold, he needs to cover himself with more clothes instead of removing his garments. My two younger sons are afraid of the dark. They are afraid because they remember the horror movies they watched. But the more afraid they become, the more they want to feed the cause of their fear: the more they watch horror movies. Like the person who is cold, the more they are freezing to death, the more they are removing one by one all their garments.

Some doubters are like my sons, the more they doubt, the more they entertain the already attractive skeptic’s faulty arguments. Instead of carefully looking for answers, they entertain themselves with more skeptical questions and proofs that support their doubt.

For many years in my Christian life, I always swing back and forth between strong faith and crippling doubts. Every time I experience doubts, I express it to my family and non-condemning friends, and then I immerse myself to other facts that will help me recover. At the same time, I avoid skeptics’ words, for they will not help.

After recovering from doubts, I always end up fearlessly proclaiming, My Lord and my God!”

Innocent Attack

How can I resist the power of grace?

While dad was polishing his new car, his 5-year-old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In his fits of anger, dad took the child’s hand and hit it many times. He didn’t realize that he hit the child’s hand with a wrench. At the hospital, his child said, “Dad, when will my fingers grow back?” Dad was so hurt, he went back to the car and hit the car many times. Sitting back, he looked at the scratches the child made . . .

. . . It reads, “I ♡ u daddy!”

Years ago, I received this story as a text message from a friend. The story was so strong that it captured my imagination and instantly melted my heart—making me feel guilty about how often I find myself in parallel situations . . . playing as the careless father of an innocent child.

I have three sons. Whenever my temper collides with my sons’ innocence, I always lose. Like the father in the story, my sons’ naivety can powerfully bring me to my knees, helpless, ashamed . . . unable to reason out . . . unable to defend.

“Dad when will my fingers grow back?” the child simply asks, instead of blaming his dad, and accusing him for his temper. The child’s action depicts a strong innocent way of overcoming evil with good.

How can I defend myself with such innocent attack?

If someone attempted to punch or kick me, I would be quick to defend by using my arms or feet. I may even counterattack with another kick or punch. Likewise, if a person insulted me, I may quickly defend myself by arguing with bulletproof logic and then retaliate with more insulting comments.

But how can I defend myself from an innocent child, asking how will he recover from the damage I’ve done to him—accepting the pain and suffering without hate or plan of revenge in his heart . . . showing me love in response to my aggression?

How can I defend myself from the attacks of grace?

With this simple story, I see a snapshot of what Jesus meant when He said to Peter that even “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Grace, no matter, how sweet and gentle, pierces our heart like a deadly arrow . . . reaching the innermost part, penetrating our deepest soul. Indeed, grace is even more powerful than violence. The innocent-like attack of grace can bring a strong man down to his knees, helpless and broken.

Because we are so used to living an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” standard of dealing with justice, it becomes easier for us to resist aggression, hatred and revenge than to face and accept grace squarely without being broke and ashamed… without having a contrite heart.

Again, how can I resist the gentle invisible power of grace?

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The photo is from Musings, another WordPress blog.

Paradox: Incompatible Truths In Painful Harmony

Incompatible Truths

Recently I was reviewing my mailbox, deleting all emails that I thought no longer necessary and retaining those emails that intrigued me.

In November 2007, I received an unsolicited beautiful message from a friend. When I checked, I noticed that my friend just received it from a long chain of recipients-turned-into-messengers who were probably as intrigued as I was when I read it, and so excitedly passed it to every friend, thereby spreading it like a virus until it hit my mailbox.

The message was claimed to be the words of George Carlin, a famous American comedian. Here is an excerpt of that message: a sample of striking paradox soaked deeply into the profoundness of truth hidden in our modern reality.

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete. . .

I admire how George Carlin saw through the undetectable, the invisibles, the unnoticeable, through the unseen reality at work beyond our daily rushed life. He beautifully declares observations with conflicting expectations, bringing incompatible truths together in painful harmony.

Reading through his message line by line, I cannot but agree with its truthfulness. How true! We have wider highways but narrower perspectives, we have more possessions with reduced values. We have conquered almost every space, including the outer space but not our tiny inner space, we have mastered the atoms but not our own unforgiveness and prejudice. We are like big men with little character living in gorgeous expensive houses that is far from home, completing varying advanced degrees and then proudly exposing our senselessness, by parading how much knowledge we acquired while hiding our inability to make sound judgement.

Opposite Truths

Dealing with our own paradoxes in life may not be easy. Most of us when facing two incompatible truths tend to choose one and neglect the other. And when we do, we face an undesirable consequence.

As I write this article, I am in the process of choosing between justice and grace — two principles that are both important in bringing peace both to our society as well as to our hearts. I am in a position that calls for the implementation of “just” practices in my work place. Yet I am also a Christian where my entire faith is founded in the profound message of grace and forgiveness. The whole doctrine of my belief begins and ends with the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

I am called to support justice, yet I am also called to dispense grace. But they seem to me as opposite as east and west. Like oil and water, they seem to repel each other.

I feel like lying in between two opposing yet equally powerful and important truths that are incompatible with each other—a paradoxical situation—where I need to choose. Yet when I do, I will violate the other.

How can I balance justice and grace in my heart? How can I keep them both to peacefully coexist side by side in my daily life?

How should I deal with my own paradoxes. Perhaps I just need to be comfortable with it. Perhaps I need faith . . . but how?

I’m just wondering.