Some Doubt

Trinity Sunday  |  Matthew 28:16-20

And having seen they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Mal lying down 027Eleven people went up a mountain in Galilee to meet Jesus. This was after he had died, of course, and after the resurrection. It does not say that some worshiped Jesus and some doubted. It says that they worshiped, and some doubted.

To make it plainer, some of the ones worshiping were also the ones doubting. That may be one of the most reassuring ideas in all of scripture.

The word that we are hearing is ἐδίστασαν, from διστάζω, not a particularly helpful fact if we do not know the Greek of the first century. It is a word that means something like “to stand in two places.” That is a more elegant expression of doubt, and one way that we can try to understand what happened—they worshiped while they doubted, trying to stand in two places at once.

It is understandable, their being of two minds about Jesus. After all, they watched the man die, and now here he was standing in front of them. It is hard to deal with that sort of dissonance when the universe dishes it up.

Most Christians today took an easier path. We began with the idea of an already resurrected Jesus. That way the death of Jesus becomes just part of the story, the background to this already living person. Doubt or wonder, or both, creep in when we try to put together the details of the resurrection story. Then we find that we, like those followers on the mountain, have one foot in faith and one in mystery.

The resurrection is simple compared to the Trinity. This man Jesus died, and then he was alive again. Fine, we might say. At least it is a story that moves in a straight line, life to death to life again, and who doesn’t want to hope for life on the other side of death? This was the God-man, you say? At once God and human? Fine, we can accept that too.

God is one God and three persons at the same time, you say? There is God who is entirely Other, and there is an aspect of God who becomes this Jesus person, and there is the aspect of God who is in all places and times at once? This is where most of us have to get off the train. We cannot imagine it.

On the other hand, I am a father, and I am a son, and I am myself. It is true that at some moments I appear to be more one than the others, but I am always all three. A star is comprised of the material within it, an impressive fusion reaction, and the energy that flows out from it as light. My dog has many aspects. He is guardian and watcher, hater of crows, lover of ice cream, bane of cats, fearless behind me, white fur blurring in chase or restful in sleep, his own person, my companion. He is all of those things, yet he remains dog, and I love him for all of his aspects.

The idea of the Triune God comes from scripture, but we have added a great deal over the centuries by way of explanation and illustration. For that matter, we’ve added a great deal of explanation and illustration to everything having to do with God. From the three rings of a pretzel to a bookshelf straining under the theology of Karl Barth, we keep trying to explain it. Here is how God created the universe, we say, never mind that the scriptural point was simply that God did rather than how God did. It is a God-thing. This is how the whole crucifixion thing works, we say—here’s what was paid, or ransomed, or fulfilled. Never mind that Jesus simply said to love one another as he loved us and left off the explanations.

Forget about explanations for a moment. If they mean so much, God would likely have provided a clearer manual for us to read, something with summaries and a nice index. Forget about the rules, who is right and who is wrong, especially who is wrong. Instead of explanations, we have stories, from creation to Jesus on a mountain. That might be a clue as to what is important, what matters.

The stories say that God is not like us, but that we are a little like God. The stories say that God has walked among humans. The stories say that God is love and light and that God loves each of us, though we don’t find any compelling reason for God to do so—quite the opposite. And the stories say that God is everywhere.

All of that leaves us with faith pushing against doubt, reason pulling against acceptance. It is like walking: we only manage to stand because of the tension in our muscles and bones. If you think too much about walking, you won’t be able to do it.

If God is everywhere, let’s expect God everywhere: in the rain, in strangers, in dogs and in starlight. Everything we find reveals part of God, and every revelation of God is all of God. We can worship while we doubt, and it is fine to doubt while we worship. It is part of our story of God, and God loves us for it.