Easter begins without notice. People come to a cemetery expecting to pay their last respects and are confronted by an empty tomb, odd messengers, unexpected experiences and an astounding possibility-life triumphing over death. The early church and Christians of every age have been amazed, astonished and, like the earliest apostles, a bit dubious. What are we to do with the central reality of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?
One of the bedrock truths of the gospel is that the resurrection does not depend on us. We don’t have to do something or believe something or act in a certain way for Easter to be true. Easter is an act of God, plain and simple, its truth and veracity independent of us. As Annie Dillard writes in Teaching a Stone to Talk, “God needs nothing, asks nothing and demands nothing. It is a life with God which demands these things.” (p. 43)
Because resurrection from the dead is so preposterous, so astoundingly hard to imagine, we need to acknowledge the difficulty of believing such a thing. This was true in the 1st Century: Thomas doubted that it happened (John 20:25), and at the end of his gospel Matthew writes, “When they saw Jesus, they worshiped him, but some doubted.” (28:17) This is true in the 21st Century as well. Wander off and read for a while about the naïveté and gullibility of Christians who are said to still believe such a dubious and ancient tale. I’ll wait. Go read, then return.
Because of such things, Christians often underestimate the importance of doubts and questions in their faith. We must be certain! Express no doubts! Or so we think. The reality is far different. We live in a time of pandemic, in which the very core of our faith is called into account. Like Job we raise our inquiries and shake our fists in God’s direction, asking for, even demanding, an answer for God’s apparent absence. If we don’t have questions and space for the doubts in our own hearts, then our faith is too small, just a few sticks to toss onto a dying fire. The flame flickers, but soon fails. Nothing is left.
Our questions, searches, doubts and fears are, however, a valuable part of our faith. To ask the unaskable, question the unquestionable, was a part of early church faith in God, and our faith too. Frederick Buechner said, “If you don’t have doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”