“Just a sign, any sign that God still cares. That’s all I ask.” Such a statement as this has been a common thread, heard throughout the 20 years of my ministry as a hospice chaplain. Such a statement captures the very human doubt that maybe God is not there, that maybe God does not exist. Such doubt is born out of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of what is to come.
When a person or family is confronted by an accident, sudden or prolonged illness, end of life issues or one’s own quickly approaching mortality, it is so very human that faith can stumble, falter and possibly even collapse under the weight of doubt, fear or simply not knowing what to believe anymore. I can still recall, almost 15 years ago, a message scrawled by a patient on a hospice hallway poster advertising religious services: “God, where are you? I cannot see you or feel you.”
I can see this fear, doubt and confusion reflected in John’s gospel, chapter 20 verses 19-31, a passage which highlights for us Thomas’s post-Easter questions as to who Christ really is.
Imagine the shock that quickly transforms itself to fear as Mary Magdalene confronts an empty tomb. The confusion of the disciples hiding behind locked doors as they listen to the tale this woman brings. The doubt Thomas experiences as he is told that the man he knows is dead is now apparently alive.
Such is the dynamic of faith when one’s world falls apart. Whether the cause is catastrophic illness or the political oppression experienced by Jesus’ disciples, the feelings are similar, the questions real. Where is God? Where is faith in all of this?
Where is faith, indeed? Thomas creates within the chaos of the Easter story a space for those of us who at times doubt the truthfulness of the Easter promise. In that space, we are given the opportunity to challenge our doubt. Thomas grants permission for the very human expressions of the fear, uncertainty and anxiety that must accompany all who choose to embark upon a journey of faith within the shadow of that same empty tomb.
And within Thomas’s doubt and fear and anxiety about who and what Jesus is, faith is rediscovered and found to be strong and true and life- giving. And so it is to this very day. For within our own doubts and fears, our own desert experiences of not knowing if God is with us, if Jesus is the resurrected Christ, many find, like Thomas, that their faith is still current, present and real.
The Rev. Canon Douglas Graydon is co-ordinator of Chaplaincy Services and the HIV/AIDS Network, diocese of Toronto.