Wrestling with Doubt
You’ve all probably heard of the German theologian Martin Luther (at least I HOPE you have!); not to be mistaken with Martin Luther King, Jr. But you may not be as familiar with a 20th century German theologian by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Seventy years ago last week, he was killed by the Nazi’s as a subversive planning the assassination of Hitler.
His is a fascinating story of a man who grew up in a wealthy German family. Dietrich spent time in the U.S. studying Lutheran and Baptist churches in New York before returning to Germany as the Nazi’s took power. He had a brother within the German government and when Hitler came to power, he included them in his hierarchy. However, when the Nazi tactics to kill innocent Jews became evident, Dietrich’s brother became involved in a secret group planning Hitler’s demise.
Dietrich himself was asked to participate in a role as German Ambassador, who would seek international support to have Hitler removed from power or killed. Multiple assassination attempts failed, leading to the capture and hanging of Dietrich just 3 weeks before Hitler committed suicide.
Bonhoeffer is known as a modern day Christian martyr. But his commitment to the anti-Nazi cause was not without personal tension and doubt. He spent endless hours despairing over his participation in an assassination plot. As a pastor, he was called to love and show mercy. And he was open with his family of the battle in his mind that swung between rebellion and Jesus’ words in Mark 12:17, “Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him.”
In the end, Dietrich determined that one must work through doubt to recognize their convictions. His conviction was that he must attempt to stop evil and it’s taking of innocent Jewish lives; and that even if it was at the cost of sinning (killing another human), God’s grace would be sufficient. While it might sound like a ‘no-brainer’, this is a radical view of grace.
I’ve been in situations myself where I have stressed for days over which direction to take when I come to a challenging ‘Y’ in the road. Does God want me to do this or that? How do we negotiate the gut telling us to do one thing while getting pressured by others to do something else? What happens when in the deep desire to do the ‘right’ thing, we do nothing at all? Or worse, what happens if we make a decision that seemed right in the moment but spend significant time afterwards regretting it or wondering if it was the right choice?
These situations are not much different from Bonhoeffer’s, when we face God’s grace in the depth of our being. The whole basis of Christian faith is forgiveness of sins, the setting free of the burdens of sin. In Isaiah 43:25 we read, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
Thomas doubted the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And it isn’t a surprise! The Jews didn’t believe in resurrection until end times, when the Messiah would deliver them. While Thomas followed Jesus for three years and acknowledged him as God in the flesh, it is another thing to face the confession when the rubber meets the road. Faith was tested. If Jesus resurrected from the dead, then end times were occurring in that moment or everything Thomas believed was turned upside-down.
The same thing happens with us. We confess Jesus as the Son of God and have stated (possibly for our entire lives) that he forgives our sins, unearned and undeserved. Yet we struggle to grasp the idea that Jesus would forgive US, without making up for mistakes. We doubt this amazing gift of love and mercy that comes through simple repentance.
In this earthly life, we are so used to recognizing that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. We like Thomas, are skeptical. But the Gospel Good News really IS true!
No matter what we’ve done, no matter what we’ve said, no matter how our reputation may be tarnished, Jesus promised that when we repent of our sins, he wipes them away and forgets them. If God can forget our sins, then we have the freedom of releasing ourselves from them too.
After Thomas saw the wounds, he confessed “O Lord, my God!’. In our doubts, let us continue to confess “O Lord, my God’ and trust that he will cleanse us and guide our paths for HIS sake and by HIS grace when we are lacking the strength to do so. Amen.