A Healthy Skepticism


“Unless I see . . . I will never believe.”

On Easter weekend all Christ’s followers remember his death and resurrection. Yet the world at large retains its smothering skepticism about our claims that he is risen.  We can hardly be surprised.  Even his forewarned disciples doubted the first reports of an empty tomb as when Jesus scolded two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25 ESV).  Thomas, too, had his doubts in John 20:24-28: “Unless I see . . . I will never believe.”
Let me raise a question then.  Is doubt a function of sin—always to be avoided—or does it have a proper role to play in the lives of growing Christians?  The answer is “yes”—or, to be clearer, “both”.  But we need to distinguish the object of our doubt: does our doubt question God and his goodness?  Or does it doubt those who question God and his goodness?
Stated positively, any doubts about God and his character are to be dismissed as nonsense. 
But doubts about the wisdom of any who would charge God with wrong are appropriate; and doubts about the multiplied distortions of God’s holy ways are always welcome.
A starting point for the question of what sets up a healthy form of skepticism versus a false form is the Fall itself in Genesis 3, when Eve was invited first to doubt God’s character and then his word: “Did God really say?” followed by “You surely will not die”.  Of all the patterns to be found in Satan’s works the most central is his effort to remove goodness from what God had made to be good.  Truth is replaced by fantasies.  Giving-love is replaced by self-love.  Sexuality is removed from marriage and becomes fornication and infidelity.  Proper doubt is replaced with perverse doubt.  And so on, endlessly.
So the proper role of skepticism was reversed in the Garden seduction scene: when God’s word and character were meant to be trusted and the Serpent’s claims should have been dismissed, just the opposite occurred.  Against all reason and experience Eve and then Adam both embraced the Serpent’s dismissal of God’s character and words.  It made no sense at all!  But once the doubt about God’s ways and his words were planted in soil of human hearts it has remained active and imposing ever since.
A book by Richard H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism, illustrates the point as it traces the imbedded nature of skepticism throughout the history of Western philosophy.  The most extreme version was promoted by Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-275 BC) with the claim that all judgments should be suspended.  In effect faith of any sort is a flawed concept, or at least not a concept to be embraced.
God, by contrast, created us to live by faith. 
And he sent his Son to offer himself as the singular and most compelling object of faith.  In this context of doubt and faith the question of Good Friday—when Jesus was crucified—was whether death was bigger than Jesus or Jesus was bigger than death.  Satan, we recall, is the author of death and its gatekeeper.  Every bit of God’s goodness that could be reversed and subverted now belonged to the realm called death, including unbelief.  And it was into this realm that Jesus traveled by uniting himself to all our sinful negations and distortions of good—by becoming sin as he assumed our fallen humanity.  Yet he did this by faith in the goodness of the Father’s plan: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but your will be done”.  And so he conquered death for us—for all who now believe and trust him.
The question for the disciples on the road to Emmaus and for Thomas, then, was how quickly they would adjust to this new reality: of Jesus as the slayer of death and the source of Life.  They were slowed by the inertia of the faulty doubts that once held them, but Jesus came in person to shatter the fantasies of doubt and death.
With Thomas, then, we should respond now by calling out, “My Lord and my God!”  Christ is risen indeed and so are we.  Our faith has found a healthy focus at last.
Thoughts? You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo.
~ Ron
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].
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