Doubt and Faith on the Road to Emmaus -
A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship (May 15)
by Rev. Lee Johnson
May 15, 2022


Is there a difference between doubt and faith?  From the beginning of the Christian faith, the two are thrown in to mix. In the Gospel stories, only two people are commended for their great faith. Both occur in Matthew: the Roman centurion who asks Jesus to heal his paralyzed slave, and the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter. In each story, Jesus calls their faith “great,” but Jesus does not intervene because of the amount of their faith, rather he observes their faith calling it “great.” Likewise, when it comes to doubt, only Matthew uses the word in relationship to another’s faith. It occurs as he approaches the disciples, walking on water in a storm. As he nears the boat, the disciples seem to see a “ghost,” in reality it's Jesus. As Peter sinks into the water, Jesus holds out his hand, pulling him to safety, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” It is worth noting, Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Jewish audience, trying to convince the audience of Jesus’ messiahship. Those of great faith, the Roman centurion, and the Canaanite woman, were outside the Jewish faith tradition. Peter, who saw a “ghost,” was an insider. Yet, Jesus did not withhold the goodness of his nature on any of the three. What relevance does this have for you?


In his New Testament writing, Paul uses the word “mystery” to connect doubt and faith. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes about the resurrection of Jesus. Some doubted. Some had faith. Everyone had questions. In verse 51, Paul names it as such: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery. We will not all die but we will be changed. In the twinkling of an eye.” Paul, who knew what it was like to have “little faith” and “great faith,” calls it a mystery. More than 20 times in his New Testament letters, Paul uses the word. For Paul, faith is a journey of mystery involving both doubt and faith, sometimes little, sometimes great. In 1 Corinthians 13, he combines hope and love with faith. Of the three, he names love as the greatest, but not before throwing in a word of caution: trying to figure it out, is like looking in a “dim mirror.”  A mystery can have a dim mirror with few absolutes, that’s why it’s called a mystery. A mystery has many gray edges. A part of our faith challenge includes becoming, what I call, “friends with a mystery,” those gray edges. Doing so involves becoming comfortable with both doubt and faith. How do you become friends with a mystery?  Or does your faith resolve itself to absolutes?  Do you live in a gray shade of faith? Or do you prefer the absoluteness of black and white?  


Twice in the past two weeks now, I’ve listened to a speaker talk about the gray shades of life. When something happens more than once in a short span of time, I tend to pay attention. One speaker was a political candidate running for office in the State of Kansas – and I am from Missouri, no less. He said the political landscape was full of gray and should not be defined by absolutes. The other speaker was the keynote at a recent benefit for a social agency on the Missouri side. She said the same, social work and care for the last and least, even the lost, is full of gray shades. Then, just to make me listen, and mix things up, I went to a faith/political gathering of more than a thousand people last week. At the end of the rally, the organizers asked three Johnson County commissioners for an absolute commitment. So, it left me to wonder about what I have done for a living these past 38 years. When it comes to talking with people about faith, what room do I leave for doubt? Or should it be more absolute? Jesus, it seems, left room for both.    


Matthew 8.6, 14.31, 15-22-28; 1 Corinthians 13.1-13; 15.51-55


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"Listen, I will tell you a mystery."


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