You Are Not Left In Dark Gloomy Pessimism Or Sugarcoated Optimism, But Given Peace

Text: John 20:19-31
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Apostle Thomas is probably best known as the apostle that doubted.  In fact we have given him the unofficial name, “Doubting Thomas.”  He was the apostle that famously said,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Thinking about the word ‘doubt’ though, we may not properly understand Thomas’ full disposition and outlook by this one term.  Otherwise stated, was Thomas the disciple who simply felt a lack of certainty?  Was his faith a little bit weaker than the rest of the Apostles?  Was he simply hesitant to believe? 
Truth be told, we must take a closer look at today’s Gospel reading and note that there was a ‘sharpness’ to Thomas’ unbelief.  In other words, it wasn’t like Thomas was wavering in faith and just needed a mere faith pep rally or some motivational speaker to energize his faith so that he could be placed into the non-doubting category.  No, Thomas said, that he would ‘never ever’ believe unless he could see tangible proof.  Indeed, Thomas demanded a visible and tangible proof before he was willing to budge even an inch away from unbelief.  I don’t deny that he doubted, but rather my point is that he stubbornly insisted in this either or proposition.  “No, proof, then I am quite alright not believing!”  He was a staunch skeptic. 
But why the staunch skepticism, you may ask?
“When the disciples told Thomas that they had seen the risen Jesus, it wasn’t [as if] he didn’t want this to be true [for he was a disciple of Jesus].  [But rather,] Thomas wanted to protect himself against the disappointment that it might not be true.  Thus, he said, ‘I will not believe.’  Thomas was [preparing himself] to face it not being true.  He would expect the worst.  Then if it didn’t turn out that way, he would be in the position of being pleasantly surprised.”[1]
We could probably say that Thomas should be labeled more as exemplifying staunch pessimistic unbelief than mild wavering doubt. 
This pessimistic thinking is a sort of mechanism that we all use to guard ourselves from a letdown.  If we expect the worst, then we are not caught off guard when the worst happens.  Conversely, if something good happens, then we are pleasantly surprised. 
We do this all the time.  For example, we plan on bad weather, so that when good weather blesses us, we are enjoyably surprised, but not let down too much if the weather is indeed lousy.
There is another way of thinking like this too.  There are those who are the very opposite of Thomas, who see everything sugarcoated, or as they say, see everything through rose colored glasses.  These optimists expect the best and live their lives with hope and blissful anticipation, but are then devastated when things are not positive; they are shocked when the going gets tough. 
Whether you are an optimist or whether you are a pessimist like Thomas, the fact remains that both optimists and pessimists are reacting to the same misfortunes of life.  Deep down we all resent and we all rebel against our hardships.  We all have this innate feeling that things shouldn’t go wrong.  “We feel that our lives ought to mean something, our lives ought to be happy.  This feeling could not really have been taught to us by experience.  It must come from somewhere else.  Yet we all have it.  Without it, it would be impossible to know or say that something has gone wrong.”[2]
Undeniably, we protect ourselves from tragic letdowns by either trying to preemptively anticipate these letdowns or by trying to guard our hope by rising above the letdowns through positive sugarcoated thinking.  Either way, both these alternatives are two sides of the same basic idea.  They are ways that we attempt to guard ourselves.  Yes, both the way of false optimism and the way of cloudy pessimism are really centered on us; they focus on guarding and protecting, “me, myself, and I” from the chaos produced from the pitfalls of life.
It is this way because we don’t want the sufferings that these disappointments produce and we certainly don’t want to be classified as losers, rejects, and ragamuffins.  But more specifically we don’t want the chaos that these letdowns create; we don’t want these storms of mind, we don’t want unsettledness, and we don’t want to live in fear.  Naturally, this unsettledness and fear—this lack peace—frightens us, for they destroy the illusion that we are in control of our lives and they destroy the illusion that we are the master and commanders of our own destiny. Thus we fight back; we pessimize and optimize, trying to convince ourselves that everything will work itself out, that we are o.k.
Today though, I am thankful for Thomas’ pessimism and I think you should be too.  I am thankful for this story; for we see that the Lord Jesus Christ does not abandon Thomas in the sea of his pessimism.  Furthermore, the Lord does not leave all you optimists in the false hopes that you may have created for yourselves.  That’s right, Christ does not leave you and me in the dark gloomy clouds of pessimism and He does not leave you and me with the rose colored glasses of false optimism.  But rather, in our Gospel reading we hear that Jesus stretched out His nail-scarred hands and pulled Thomas to Himself saying, “Peace be with you.  Do not be faithless, but believing!” 
Dear friends, dear cloudy pessimist, dear sugarcoated optimists, the Lord Jesus Christ takes your “doubts and your fears and your shame and your bitterness [and your pessimism and your optimism] and He makes them His own.  And He takes His faith and His hope and His life and His joy and His glory and He makes them your own.  He doesn’t remove your outward troubles; He gives you something [far] better: … peace.”[3]  Yes, my friends the Lord does not forsake you leaving you in your cloudy pessimism or false optimism, he does not leave you in fearful petrified unbelief, but He connects Himself to you in your baptisms, in the Word, and in the Lord’s Supper, thus giving you salvation, faith, and peace.  In faith you are connected to the Lord where you are guaranteed the expectation of victory.  Yes, you are given the real thing, life and salvation.  “Life and victory are ours because we are connected with and share the life and victory of Christ, and these are as solid and as certain as God in Christ.”[4]
But what of my dysfunctional family, my disease, my addiction, my pain, my discomfort, and so forth?  Please tell me Pastor that it is the worst it will get or tell me something positive and encouraging about my situation. 
Dear friends, the Lord may just leave you in these situations, but He has not left you in a place where the successes of your life, or your identity, or your worth, or your value are centered on these wobbling circumstances of life.  Otherwise stated, you are baptized into Christ Jesus, you have the peace that passes all understanding in Christ—“the kind of peace that knows that no matter how unfaithful you have been, God will never be unfaithful to you; the kind of peace that knows no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love is always greater; the kind of peace that knows that no matter how bad this world may be at times, any suffering here is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.”[5] 
Come hell or high water, you have the Christ.  Your life is not based on what you can see and touch, the circumstances of life—the good, the bad, and the ugly.  A life that is based on what you can see and touch is fearfully breakable.  Thus, you shall not be pointed to that which shifts, changes, and breaks.  As a blood bought, baptized Christian, you are not established upon sinking sand.  But rather your life is “connected with God in Christ [and it] cannot be shattered—not even sin, pain, and death [can shatter it]—for such a life goes through these [circumstances] ‘with’ Christ, and with Him there is a victorious way through.”[6]
A life living to protect itself through the tactics of cloudy pessimism and false optimism will sooner or later make you fall to pieces, leaving you with fear.  It doesn’t work.  It isn’t real.  However, a life that calls a thing what it is while living connected with Christ, is an indestructible life. “With everything—work, play, sleep, food, family, tears, laughter, [pain, trials, joys]—with everything connected with Christ, not seen yet believed, you live solidly, happily, with that indestructible peace that the risen Lord gave His disciples, a peace that held through pain and persecution, [a peace that] gave courage to live and die for Christ, [a peace that] put a song in their hearts and on their lips even when in prison. Easter declares that it works. That is the way of life. That is the way bound up with the living and risen Lord Jesus Christ. That is the life of faith.” [7]
This is your life.  Peace from the Gospel; objectively washed, worded, breaded and wined by Christ in the midst of your circumstance of life.  This is your life, peace of heart, mind, and soul even when surrounded by ten thousand enemies. 
Fear not blessed saints, the Lord is with you.  Fear not blessed saints, peace be with you; peace is with you in Christ.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 123.

[2] Ibid, 122.

[3] Chad L. Bird, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons (Copyright 2014 Chad L. Bird), 189.

[4] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, 124.

[5] Chad L. Bird, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, 189-190.

[6] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, 124-125.

[7] Ibid.

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