Doubting Thomas

April 28, 2019


When we first moved to Oslo in the summer of 2015, we heard that we would be getting new neighbors across the hall. I remember Torill Sebro saying how great it would be for us to have these new neighbors because they too, were from the United States and had children around the same ages as our boys. The new neighbors were going to be in Norway for ten months on a Fulbright scholarship to focus on a specific academic area and learn what Norwegians are doing in that field.  Torill said, that we could help each other, bond, or if anything, just be across the hall for questions and support. We moved in two months before the neighbors arrived, so we had a little bit of time to figure things out in our new city and also to think about, dread and wonder who these new people would be living across the hall. You know how your form thoughts before you meet people and make assumptions based on the little information you have about them? That’s what we did.

I will never forget the day when I heard the elevator door open and close in the hallway. Our boys looked through the peep hole to catch a glimpse of the new family moving in. We decided to be hospitable and introduce ourselves after a few minutes.  We met Edward and Marcy and their two girls, Eva and Ali. We discovered quite quickly that the Rova-Hegeners were very different from Edward and Marcy and their girls; even more different than we could possibly ever imagine ourselves to be. Our backgrounds were so diverse that we wondered to ourselves if this relationship could even exist.

I understand my family to be like this; my family is a family of faith. We are a family with two Lutheran pastors, raising our children looking through the lenses of faith. We live, breathe, pray, see, and experience our day with God in the picture of life. Faith is deeply embedded in me personally, as I was raised in the church. I was one of those strange kids who really loved confirmation, Sunday morning worship, and had a longing for God since well, as long as I could remember. This framework of life still existed even during those times when I doubted, wondered, wandered, and walked away from faith for a time. Faith is how I have made sense of everything and most certainly was why Pastor Joel and I moved to Norway. We felt called by God.

And then, there were our new neighbors; Edward, Marcy, Eva, and Ali.  Both Edward and Marcy were academics, highly intelligent people in the fields of political science and medicine. Marcy was the Fulbright scholar, here to do medical research at the university. Her husband Edward would spend the ten months on sabbatical from his college teaching position. He would spend his time writing political science articles and caring for their girls. They shared with us that were extremely religious and as we stood outside the door of their apartment, we smiled as we noticed both families had attached same Hebrew prayer box to the outside of our door frames.

We listened to Edward speak in a thick Spanish accent and found out he was raised in small Jewish community in Costa Rica. All of his Polish grandparents had relocated to South America after World War 2 and two of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Edward told us he met Marcy in Israel, when he was serving in the army and when she was on a year of study there.  Being Jewish was obviously very important to their identity, but what caught us off-guard was the fact that they did not believe in God. They flat out said to us, “We are Jews who keep Jewish religious traditions, language, and attend synagogue, but we are atheists and do not believe in God.”

It was absolutely mind-boggling for me to wrap my head around this information. And yet, this relationship with our new neighbors was one I wasn’t going to miss out on because it was an opportunity to learn from people who were drastically different from me. I wanted to listen to their stories and find a way to connect. This relationship was and is different from any relationship I have ever had ever had in my life. Over the course of the next year, our families participated in and shared day to day happenings with our neighbors. We ate meals together, played games on Friday nights, and just got to know each other. During Passover, we were invited to do an entire Seder Meal with them and their other friends and we were the only non-Jews present.  It was a huge blessing.

But, our conversation got interesting one evening when Edward and I were standing in their kitchen waiting for a chicken to come out of the oven when he cynically said to me, “Emily, you just believe in God because your parents told you to, right? You went to church and followed all the rules and that’s how you live your life, right? You believe in God because someone told you to. God doesn’t exist, only through history has God been made up. Look at what happened to my people during World War 2, do you really think God exists when 6 million of us died? When you think about it, really think about it rationally, how can God be real?”

Absolutely flabbergasted, I said, “Um, Edward, I am fully capable of making my own choices and I chose and continue to choose to believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Sure, my parents had something to do with bringing me to church, but actually, they had very little to do with the formation of my faith. It was other people and experiences that shaped my faith and life. Enough has happened on my life’s journey that it would be nearly impossible for me to take God out of it. But, I can’t prove God exists  with a scientific formula or rational thinking. It is a matter of the heart for me. Nothing about my faith is rational. Nothing. There is something else I think you should know about me being a person of faith. If I am to be really honest with you, with all that being said, you need to know I also have doubts about God and have my whole life through. It’s usually when I’ve been in some tough places when I have doubted the most. ” I smiled and then added, “But that’s usually when God shows up, when I can’t stand it anymore, or I don’t think I can, but then something happens that returns and reconnects me to my faith in God. Funny how that works.” Edward just listened.

Looking back on that first year of life here in Norway, I can see how challenging faith was on a day to day level.  It was intertwined between our neighbors across the hall and making sense of living in a country that felt more secular than anywhere else I had ever been. I am being truthful when I say that doubts wandered their way into my life deeply at that point. It wasn’t the first time and will not be the last. Questioning, wondering, pondering, struggling, feeling alone, and wrestling with my head and heart, are all words I choose to describe the doubt I felt in God’s presence.

In post-resurrection chaos and darkness, the disciples’ lives had been turned upside down.  I imagine that prior to Jesus showing up, when they are in the locked room together they too were wondering, pondering, struggling, grieving, and questioning what just happened in the days previous. As they sat in that room and deeply longed for the One whom they had followed and given their life’s work, my guess is doubt settled on their hearts. They were sitting in the quiet, waiting in silence, waiting to see how the story of God would unfold, desperate for any sign of God’s presence.

The Good News this morning and the heart of the Gospel is that in the midst of that difficult place, that place of deep grief, sadness, darkness, and longing, Jesus shows up. He shows up amongst the disciples and shares the peace. He shows himself and keeps his promises. Jesus presence restores the disciples’ faith. They can see and touch the Risen Lord before them. It is true and good. But our friend, Thomas wasn’t there and didn’t see and touch Jesus, as the others had, so in his mind, he remained in doubt. For him, in order to believe he had to see and touch, that was all there was to it.

Once again, for the third time, Jesus shows up. Thomas feels his Lord, with his hands in Jesus’ hands and touches his side. The doubt is suddenly washed away, the curtain is pulled back, and the veil is lifted. Thomas believes once again.

There are clearly times in life in which doubting God’s presence may be more prominent; perhaps you or a loved one is struggling with a health issue, or you are in the midst of a relationship separation, or you’ve lost your job and are looking for another or you are in the midst of caring for an elderly parent or small children or you are simply lonely . The depths of doubt pull on us during these times when we feel most vulnerable and we wonder where God is.  We want to see him, we want to touch him, we want reassurance that we are not doing this thing called life on our own. In our daily lives, where doubt easily creeps in, we all need Jesus to come and stand among us, don’t we?  Again, the Good News this morning is that Jesus will always show up. It might not be in the ways we expect or want, but Jesus will always show up to remind us we are not alone and he is right there in the midst of our daily lives with all of the challenges and opportunities we have.

The other part of the story was how Jesus extended peace to his disciples.  As we remember this particular moment in scripture, we are brought back to what we do in worship every single Sunday. What do we do in worship after the prayers and introductions of people?  We extend the peace of the Lord. The church community is where we see and touch the hands of each other, smell and taste the body and blood of Jesus as we gather for communion, and where we take in the smiles and faces of those, whom Jesus has left us with. Like I told my friend Edward, I choose to participate in the life of the church week in and week out. I choose that because I know Jesus is going to show up and be present, even when I doubt. Why? Because all of you are here. Thank God for that. I know the Risen Lord will be here in my community.

After numerous conversations with Edward throughout our first year, as he and I stood again in my kitchen the evening before they returned to the US, I felt strongly that it was one of those now or never moments. I said to him, “Edward, as a person of faith, I have doubts, but, my prayer for you, is that in your doubt and unbelief, you might have glimpses of faith.” He stopped, smiled, and said, “I never considered that. It’s not really rational, but maybe I will.”

Doubt isn’t the absence of faith. Doubt and faith go hand and in fact, I’m pretty sure they dance together. No matter where you are in your faith or doubt, I want you to know that Jesus will show up because he has Risen for you. Bidden or not, God is present. Christ is Risen. He has Risen Indeed. Amen. Alleluia.


Bible References

  • Revelation 1:4 - 8
  • John 20 - 20



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