WHEN WE DOUBT

 

SHE looked at me like I was crazy. As I spoke at a recent conference about the Church’s mission to evangelize and the power of the Gospel, a woman seated near the back had a contorted look on her face. She would occasionally whisper mockingly to her sister sitting beside her and then return to me with a stupefied gaze. It was hard not to notice. But then, it was hard not to notice her sister’s expression, which was markedly different; her eyes spoke of a soul searching, processing, and yet, not certain.

Sure enough, in an afternoon Question and Answer period, the searching sister raised her hand. “What do we do if we have doubts about God, about whether He exists and whether these things are real?” The following are some of things I shared with her…

 

THE ORIGINAL WOUND

It’s normal to doubt, of course (insofar as this is the common lot of fallen human nature). Even the Apostles who witnessed, walked, and worked with Jesus doubted His Word; when the women testified that the tomb was empty, they doubted; when Thomas was told that Jesus appeared to the other Apostles, he doubted (see today’s Gospel). Not until he put his fingers into the wounds of Christ did Thomas also believe.

So, I asked her, “Why doesn’t Jesus just appear again on earth so that everyone can see Him? Then we can all believe, right? The answer is because He’s already done that. He walked among us, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, calmed their storms, multiplied their food, and raised the dead—and then we crucified Him. And if Jesus were to walk among us today, we would crucify Him all over again. Why? Because of the wound of original sinin the human heart. The first sin was not eating a fruit from a tree; no, before that, it was the sin of distrust. That after all God had done, Adam and Eve distrusted His Word and believed the lie that perhaps, they too, could be gods.”

“So,” I continued, “that’s why we are saved ‘through faith’ (Eph 2:8). Only faith can restore us again to God, and this, too, is a gift of His grace and love. If you want to know just how deep the wound of original sin is in the human heart, look at the Cross. There you’ll see that God Himself had to suffer and die in order to repair this existential wound and reconcile us to Himself. In other words, this state of mistrust in our hearts, this wound, is a rather big deal.”

 

BLESSED, WHO DO NOT SEE

Yes, from time to time, God does reveal himself to others, as He did to St. Thomas, so that they might believe. And these “signs and wonders” also become signs for us. While in prison, John the Baptist sent a message to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said in reply:

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. (Matt 11:3-6)

Those are such insightful words. For how many people today do indeed take offence at the notion of the miraculous? Even Catholics, intoxicated as it were by a spirit of rationalism, struggle to accept the multitude of “signs and wonders” that belong to our Catholic heritage. These are given to remind us that God exists. “For example,” I said to her, “the many Eucharistic miracles around the world, which cannot be explained. They are clear evidence that Jesus meant what He said: ‘I am the bread of life… my flesh is true food and blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.’ [1]

“Take for instance the Argentinian miracle where the Host suddenly turned into flesh. When studied by three scientists, one who was an atheist, they discovered that it was heart tissue—the left ventricle, to be precise—the part of the heart that pumps blood to the rest of the body giving it life. Second, their forensics determined that the individual was a male who underwent extreme torture and asphyxiation (which is the common result of crucifixion). Last, they found that the blood type (A-B) matched other Eucharistic miracles that happened centuries earlier and that, in fact, the blood cells were inexplicably still living when the sample was taken.”[2]

“Then,” I added, “there are the bodies of incorruptible saints all through Europe. Some of them appear as though they have just fallen asleep. But if you leave milk or hamburger on the counter for a few days, what happens?” A chuckle arose from the crowd. “Well, to be honest, the Communist atheists had their ‘incorruptible’ as well: Stalin. They would wheel him out in a glass coffin so that the masses could venerate his body in Moscow Square. But, of course, they’d have to wheel him back in after a short period of time because his flesh would start to thaw despite the preservatives and chemicals pumped into him. The Catholic incorruptible saints, on the other hand—such as St. Bernadette—are not artificially preserved. It’s simply a miracle for which science has no explanation… and yet, we still disbelieve?”

She looked at me intently.

 

ENCOUNTERING JESUS

“Nonetheless,” I added, “Jesus said that, after His ascension into Heaven, we would not see Him any longer.[3] So, the God we worship, first of all, tells us that we won’t see Him as we see each other in the ordinary course of life. But, He does tell us how we can know Him. And this is so important. Because if we want to know that God exists, if we want to experience His presence and love, then we have to come to Him on His terms, not our own. He’s God, after all, and we’re not. And what are His terms? Turn to the book of Wisdom:

…seek him in integrity of heart; because he is found by those who do not test him, and manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. (Wisdom of Solomon 1:1-2)

“God manifests Himself to those who come to Him in faith. And I stand before you as a witness that it is true; that even in the darkest times in my life, when I thought God was a million miles away, a little act of faith, a motion toward Him… has opened the
way to powerful and unexpected encounters of His presence.” Indeed, what does Jesus say of those who believe in Him without actually seeing Him?

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. (John 20:29)

“But we ought not test Him, that is, act in pride. ‘Unless you turn and become like children,’ Jesus said, ‘you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ [4] Rather, the Psalm says, ‘a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.’ [5] Asking God to reproduce Himself like bacteria in a petri dish, or yelling at Him to show himself like a ghost hiding behind a tree is asking Him to act out of character. If you want proof of the God of the Bible, then don’t ask for proof of the God who is not in the Bible. But come to Him in trust saying, “Okay God, I will follow your word in faith, even though I feel nothing…” That is the first step toward an Encounter with Him. The feelings will come, the experiences will come—they always do, and have for hundreds of millions of people—but in God’s time and in His way, as He sees fit.

“In the meantime, we can use our reason to deduce that the origin of the universe had to come from Someone outside of it; that there are extraordinary signs, such as miracles and incorruptible saints, which defy any explanation; and that those who live according to what Jesus taught are, statistically, the happiest people on earth.”

With that, I looked her in the eyes and said, “Above all, don’t doubt that you are loved.”

 

My child,
all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully
as your present lack of trust does,
that after so many efforts of My love and mercy,
you should still doubt My goodness.

—Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1486

 

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