The usually reserved adopted boy from Ethiopia beamed up at me as he sat in the hallway waiting to use the restroom. “Vicar Bill, Vicar Bill,” he shouted as he jumped up and hugged me. “I’m the line leader today,” he said with excitement. “Everyone will follow me.” Everyone will follow… familiar and wise words, this time from a faithful three-year-old.
In the ‘doubting’ Thomas text many Christians will hear as the Gospel this week, we are all Thomas’. We want to follow and be as the South African hymn Haleluya! Pelo tsa rona (Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises arrangement of Freedom Is Coming) resounds, “strong in faith, free of doubt.” But we find ourselves even in the week following the resurrection much like the women at the empty tomb, questioning faith, full of doubt.
Another three-year-old in the same hallway encounter looked up at me and loudly proclaimed “I love you.” All I could do was smile and wonder if she knew what she was really saying. But she persisted in her refrain. As I asked the girl next to her who was not very happy how she was, the little girl pointed her finger at me and made shooting sounds, “pow, pow, pow.” I suggested that she shouldn’t say that, and the first girl who had continued to remind me she “loved me” thought I was speaking to her and emphatically replied, “No, I do love you.” No, I love you… the comforting refrain of Jesus, who through all doubt continues to remind us of God’s unconditional love.
When Thomas appears on the scene, apparently left out of the initial encounter with the risen Jesus, he doubts and struggles to believe Jesus was alive and returned to the disciples. But Thomas doesn’t actually put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus to be able to believe. Thomas, in encountering Jesus, is enveloped in Christ’s loving presence and is filled with faith, free of doubt as he proclaims Jesus as Christ when he says, “My Lord and my God!”
For me, particularly the Thomas part of me, Paul Tillich’s framing of faith and doubt resonates:
If faith is understood as belief that something is true, doubt is incompatible with the act of faith. If faith is understood as being ultimately concerned, doubt is a necessary element in it. It is a consequence of the risk of faith.
In this time following resurrection joy when doubt creeps in, the Gospel, the face of Jesus in three-year-old preschoolers, the South African hymn, and theologian Tillich remind that while doubt is a part of life, we can sing God’s praises and tell to all the joyful Gospel. Halleluiah!