Have you ever wondered if God is really there?
In the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carey plays Bruce Nolan, a man who believes that God is messing with his life, or perhaps, even worse, ignoring him entirely. Bruce is a successful news reporter in Buffalo New York. He is one of those guys in the field that report on human interest stories. He is witty and entertaining and the public really likes his work. Bruce has a wonderful, sweet and devoted girlfriend who is played by Jennifer Aniston.( Not coincidentally, his girlfriend’s name is Grace). Bruce lives in a nice apartment, has a cute and loveable dog, earns a decent living, has good friends and excels in his work. Unfortunately, this is not good enough for Bruce. He feels that his cute and funny human interest stories are not “real” news and that he is not seen as a serious reporter. What he wants more than anything in the world is to be an anchorman. The anchorman is the person who gets the glory, fame and respect. Time and time again, he gets passed by for the anchorman promotion and it is eating away at him.
He brings this to the attention of his boss, but his boss tells him that he should be happy being a field reporter. You are good at what you do- the boss tells Bruce. People like you. You make them laugh. We need you out in the field. This does not appease Bruce. He becomes increasingly bitter and resentful both on the job and at home. He is convinced that God neither sees him nor cares about him. Eventually, in a very funny yet sad scene, he completely loses his composure on live television as he rants and raves to the TV audience about the injustices he has suffered in life. He is fired because of his tirade and then the real tirade begins.
Certain that his life is a disaster, Bruce decides to give God one last chance to prove Himself. As Bruce recklessly careens down the highway in his car he cries out “Send me a sign to show me that you care about me!!” As he is doing this he drives by a gigantic flashing road sign “Caution- Danger Approaching!!”. The sign is flashing on and off. Bruce blows by that sign and again he cries out “God just let me know that you are out there- Give me a sign!!!” A very large truck pulls out in front of Bruce. The truck is piled high with road signs. Stop! Caution!! Danger!! Still Bruce does not see. This continues until he crashes his car into a tree.
Now he is convinced that God will not show Himself to him and he stumbles out of the wrecked car, cursing God and challenging Him. “Go ahead and smite me Oh mighty smiter!!”, he screams. God does not smite Bruce- though He probably should have- (that is really what all of us deserve). But our God is a God of mercy and second chances and He chooses to engage with Bruce in a way that changes his life. I won’t tell you how the movie ends but I could not help thinking of Thomas as I was watching it. Bruce refuses to believe without physical proof of God’s power. This reminds me of the famous passage in Scripture where we meet “Doubting Thomas”. The passage is found the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel.
Thomas is one of the twelve, chosen by Jesus to live with Him and follow Him. Thomas has seen Jesus give sight to a blind man, feed four and five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, make a paralyzed man walk, drive seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, heal many lepers, and raise His friend Lazarus from the dead, not to mention, changing some very large jugs of water into a fine merlot. We can assume, as a follower of Jesus, that Thomas has given up whatever life that he had in order to live with Jesus. Yet when presented with the news that Jesus has risen from the dead, Thomas does not believe. He wants to see it for himself.
It is amazing that Thomas is not already convinced of the Lord’s power. After all that he has seen. All of the time spent with Jesus. All of the days sitting at His feet, listening to His teaching. Jesus lived with His disciples. They spent virtually all of their time together. Imagine what Thomas must have given up to follow Jesus. Did he have a family? A job? Friends? How much he must have already gone through with Jesus. He was part of the inner circle!!! He had the inside track. Access to Jesus 24/7. And yet he still did not believe.
Of course, we must take into account what has just happened to the disciples. They have just witnessed their beloved Rabbi and Lord arrested, scourged, and sentenced by a crowd of their own people to be crucified. Most of them are in hiding. The only one of the Twelve that was left at the foot of the Cross, was John- “the one whom Jesus loved”.( No wonder he got special mention!! ) No- the rest of them are gone. Confused, terrified and shaken. They huddle together in a locked room, fearfully waiting for the angry mob or the Roman authorities to catch up with them; expecting the same fate as their Master. Their hopes dashed . The glorious victory that they were expecting has not happened. They are defeated. They have lost the cause. And now they have to look at all that they have given up only to end their mission in defeat. They have been the victims of a great mistake. A cruel hoax. A disaster.
Yet what they have believed has actually happened. Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus at the tomb. She goes to tell the others. Like Thomas, they don’t believe her at first. But then Jesus appears to them too. Unfortunately for Thomas, he is not there when Jesus appears. He hears about the miracle secondhand. Maybe everything that has happened is just too much for him. He cannot believe it. “Unless I can touch His wounds and put my hand in His side- I will not believe” says Thomas. How many times have we felt the same way?
Like Bruce and the disciples, we too tend to feel like this when life does not turn out the way that we think it should. What was I thinking? We ask ourselves. What was I thinking to trust that God would have a plan for me? What was I thinking to believe that He could help me find a job? Or heal me of my gambling addiction? Or help my teenage daughter who has run away from home? What an idiot I am, to trust in someone that I cannot touch, hear or see.!!! To believe in the truth of a conglomeration of stories that is thousands of years old- translated from ancient languages that people don’t even speak anymore!!!
Like Bruce and Thomas, we challenge God- “Show yourself to me so that I can believe!! Give me a sign -anything!!” And like Bruce and Thomas we ignore the wonders that God is busy performing right before our very eyes. Why? Because they are not the exact signs that we are demanding.
Instead of healing our infirmity God may choose to send us an army of believers to pray for our well being. Instead of sending us material wealth, God may choose to gift us with a love and talent for a helping profession which will never earn us a lot of money. Instead of a life filled with opportunity God may choose to allow us to struggle so that we can better understand those in the world who are struggling. Instead of scholarly wisdom, God may choose to gift us with a compassionate heart. Instead of a smooth and grief free life, God may allow us to mourn so that we will be better able to comfort others. Instead of the perfect, predictable, safe and comfortable husband, God may choose to gift us with a brave, unpredictable, risk-taking and adventurous sea captain whom He would mold and shape to be more perfect for you than anyone that you could have imagined for yourself.
Like Bruce and Thomas, we are often blinded to the good things that God has brought into our lives. We are looking for the supernatural and ignore the simple goodness of health, friends, family and meaningful work. We are listening for the big booming voice and the choir of heavenly angels and cannot hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit whispering into our soul. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in all of the chaos that is going on around us that we cannot see or hear anything. Like trying to see in the middle of a giant storm or hurricane- we cannot see through the rain. The disciples were in the middle of a great storm of chaos and confusion yet Jesus, in His mercy, decided to give Thomas another chance. “Here I am Thomas”- says Jesus. “Look at my wounds. Put your finger in my side. I love you in spite of your doubts and I will show myself to you.” In the same way that He gives each of us a new opportunity to open our eyes to see Him every day. God’s mercy is new every morning.(Lam. 3:21-23)
When Jesus gives Thomas a second chance, Thomas responds with one of the greatest affirmations in Scripture. “My Lord and my God!!” There is no more doubt anymore for Thomas. It is absolutely clear from Thomas’ reaction, and Jesus’ response to Thomas that Jesus is God. Thomas does not believe that Jesus is a great moral teacher. Thomas does not believe that Jesus is a man who just happened to be really close to God. Thomas is clear and the Scripture is clear. “My Lord and my God!!” Jesus is God. Jesus and the Father are One. Jesus’ blesses Thomas for his belief but adds that those who have not seen and yet have believed will also be blessed. That speaks to a lot of us. We believe in a God that cannot be seen with the human eye. God is Spirit. But our God is alive on this earth through the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word- which is living and active.
Thomas sometimes gets criticized for being a doubter. I have always had a soft spot for him- because he reminds me so much of myself. I wonder if there was a part of Thomas that was afraid that just maybe, if he really believed, all that he wished for would come true? I can identify with that. For a long time, in my life, I used to say” Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.” I figured that if I kept myself from hoping for the best, I would not be wounded when the best didn’t happen. If my expectations were not too great and my hopes were not too high, I reasoned, life would be safe and risk free. Sure, maybe I would never experience great highs in life, but at least there wouldn’t be any really big lows. I thought that I was protecting myself from being hurt and disappointed with a shield of doubt.
I am not speaking of my behavior before I was a Christian. I was behaving this way as a professing, church going, Sunday school teaching Christian. I didn’t really believe in prayer. Most of the time, I felt that God did not see me. Sure, I prayed. But deep down inside, I didn’t really think that God was listening. I didn’t really think that I deserved for God to answer my prayers. Like Bruce, I would often yell at God. “What terrible thing are you going to allow to happen next?” I would ask Him. “When is the next giant rock going to fall out of the sky and land on my head?” “Why don’t you just smite me Oh Mighty Smiter- and put me out of my misery?”
But God, in His mercy, gave me much more than just a second chance. He gave me a third and a fourth and a fifth and many more chances. Essentially, He kept pursuing me. The person of the Trinity who does this work on earth is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers a group of confused, frightened, and doubting disciples into effective and driven Apostles.
For me, no Sunday school lesson, no Bible Study and no sermon will ever be without Him because the Holy Spirit changed my life. He changed me by changing my heart. It didn’t happen overnight. I was not given the gift that Thomas was, the opportunity to touch the actual wounds of Jesus. But through, the Holy Spirit, my eyes were opened to see all of the glorious work of God around me. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, my self protective shield of doubt was smashed to smithereens. I now believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the absolute truth and reliability of the Holy Scriptures. I believe that God could actually desire to give me even more than I ever could have wanted for myself. I believe that God can heal any wound through the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that people can be changed and grow into the likeness of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. I have seen it happen too many times, right before my very eyes- in my own family and in the lives of many of my friends. We have a Church on earth today because of the Holy Spirit. And I believe that all of us can be changed from doubters to believers just like Thomas, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So what are we to do with this? Are there some of you who feel that life is just a series of unfortunate mishaps and the best we can do is hunker down in a shelter of doubt? What about those of us who feel that they don’t know how to pray? What about the prayers we have been praying for years that do not seem to have been answered? How do we get to see and feel the wounds of Jesus? How do we trade in doubt for belief?
I am going to suggest two action steps that you can take to bring you closer to Jesus and further away from doubt.
First- take advantage of Christian community.
Did you notice that Thomas’s doubt was strongest because he was apart from the community of disciples? He was not with them when Jesus appeared. The Scripture does not tell us where he was but we know that for some reason he was separated from the group. This is exactly where the enemy wants us so that he can plant the seeds of doubt in our mind- away from the group. When we are active in the Christian community of the Church it is much more difficult for us to doubt- especially if we are in close and nurturing friendships with other believers. By being active in the Church, I do not mean simply coming to church on Sunday. I mean getting your hands dirty. Serving in a ministry. Belonging to a small group. Sharing your prayer requests with believing friends, attending a Bible study, reading the Bible and searching for connection with Jesus in your heart. Being real with people. Not putting on a “Christian happy face” but telling the truth. The Church is Christ’s own Body and we are living members of it. It is a gift and a privilege to be a member of the Church. You should be taking every opportunity to be connected to Christ by being connected to His people.
Second- Don’t keep your doubts to yourself
I think that Thomas is very brave. When he hears about the appearance of the risen Jesus, he has no problem confessing right away that he doesn’t believe it. Think about that for a minute……….Wouldn’t the easier thing have been to go along with everyone in the group??- “Darn! I can’t believe I missed the risen Jesus- well, I am sure He will be back again tomorrow- meanwhile I will just sit here by this door and wait for Him!!” That would certainly have been the acceptable response. Thomas is with his brothers and sisters though. These people have just spent three years living with Jesus- the most real and honest person that has ever lived. Jesus was without sin. He could never lie. He could only tell the truth. And His followers were attempting to become like Him. That is one thing I need to warn you about- when you choose to follow Jesus and ask Him into your life- He will demand nothing less than radical honesty. Honesty with others and honesty with yourself.
So Thomas is honest about his doubt. He is not ashamed of it. And this is what we need to do with our own doubts. Keeping them in the dark will only make things worse. When we are connected in the Church- really and honestly connected in heart relationships with other believers- they will help us with our doubts. It is often through these relationships that our doubts are transformed. So share your doubts with another believer- someone you trust and feel safe with. God will honor that- I promise you.
Let Us Pray:
Father- we thank You for loving us in spite of our doubts.
We ask You to help us with our doubts.
Give us the courage to share them with each other.
We ask you to show yourself to us Lord Jesus-through the relationships that we have with each other.
Send your Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.
Send your Holy Spirit, Lord, to transform us into the likeness of Christ.
Send your Holy Spirit, Lord to transform your Church into the Body of Christ.
Father, we believe, that Your Son Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life.
We thank you, Jesus, for what you have done for us.
We thank you Lord, for sending the Holy Spirit.
We believe Lord. Help our unbelief.
In Jesus name we pray.