One of the first responses to resurrection was disbelief, but we’re critical when some prominent Christian doubts it. “Wait, you’re telling me that the man who was mocked, whipped, crucified and carried into a tomb appeared to the disciples?” Sounds like outdated metaphysics. Or, “God didn’t cure her cancer, but definitely will raise and reconstitute her on the other side?” Sounds fishy. Resurrection might be better swallowed as allegory.
Thomas is the saint we didn’t know we wanted, but desperately needed. Thomas returns to his frightened friends in their boarded up house after a walk through the park and says, “I don’t believe you.” Or more emphatically, “I’ll never believe you.” I mean Peter isn’t the most trustworthy guy, right? Neither is the church built in his wake (not always, anyway).
There are some things you have to see for yourself to believe. For instance, the Cubs won the World Series. Wouldn’t believe it, but I saw it. I’ve heard some rational stories about UFOs, but I’ve never seen any. I’m not saying it’s not true, but I haven’t seen it. So Thomas says, “Unless I see his hands I will not believe.” And the church breathes a sigh of relief. Thank God that there’s some skepticism in the Scriptures.
Who says doubt is the unforgivable sin? Politicians and pundits, of course. Other times, it’s the church--particularly the religious professionals. We're the worst. We can’t stomach doubt; it’s an assault on our authority, years of education, and vocation. We’re a people who need to be needed. Come sit at my feet and linger on these words of tradition-tested wisdom. You’re not allowed to disagree, after all, because I represent God. Let’s sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on repeat until you change your mind. The church has failed us, here, I think.
Doubt doesn’t bother me too much, anymore. I love a good doubt. Ever changed your mind about something? You can thank doubt for that. Galileo doubted that the earth was the center of the universe. Scientists are doubting that some cancers are incurable. Praise the Lord. The church doubted that women couldn’t preach. And lest we think that Scripture never doubts Scripture, Peter had a dream about Eastern Carolina barbecue (I assume) and began to reinterpret his entire tradition.
Our experiences shape what we believe, just as what we believe shapes our experiences. If there’s one phrase I’d love to hear more often it’s this: ‘I could be wrong, but this is how I see it. And I’m open to seeing more.’ The novelist Doris Betts writes that faith is "not synonymous with certainty...faith is the decision to keep your eyes open.” Then again, if we can’t be certain about anything, we should also doubt our doubts. God always surprises us.
Thomas kept his eyes open and that’s why the church calls him a saint. When Jesus finally appears to Thomas he greets him not with anger, but by saying “Peace be with you.” It’s an ancient Jewish greeting and blessing: Shalom. God be with you. Jesus gives the peace that passes all understanding, not as the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Jesus receives our fragile faith into his body and births wholeness.
Thomas got there, to a place of peace, even if it took him longer. “My Lord and my God,” he says. It's one of the strongest confessions in the Scriptures.
There’s a misunderstanding that faith is about mental assent, or what you think with your cerebral cortex. But faith is not about passing the Christianity quiz and believing is more than agreeing to a set of doctrinal statements or spouting off the right catechism. Passionate faith doesn't spring from coercion, but from discovery (or being discovered) after the hard work of asking questions, wondering, and lingering in the empty places.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is less concerned with your mental acuity and more concerned with where you’re abiding, or making your home. There’s a union between the believer and the divine (and not just our brains). The major point is whether our lives become more peaceful, whole, loving after an encounter with Christ Jesus. And that's enough reason to stop policing church belonging.
Doubt isn’t as threatening as we fear. If Jesus rose from the dead, it will still be true whether or not Thomas believes it. Jesus doesn't wait for our validation. This is good news because I have more questions every day. But the questions no longer threaten my faith; they make it more fun and interesting. They’re pruning hooks that refine my deepest convictions. In other words, the beliefs sometimes change, but the trust doesn’t.
We’ve named Thomas “Doubting,” but the only nickname Thomas has in Scripture is “the Twin.” Apparently he had a brother, though his identity is one of the great mysteries. But maybe it’s an appropriate name for Thomas. Whose twin is he? The church tradition has said that it might be you. If you’re not sure you can stomach the entire Christian confession, then there’s good news: you have a twin. Are you keeping your eyes open?
Jesus' earliest followers didn't have uniform experiences of him. Neither do we. Methodists have long said that there are degrees of faith—certainty, uncertainty, and everything between. It's easier for some and harder for others. But Jesus reminds us that the only requirement is faith the size of a mustard seed, or rather a Thomas-sized faith.
Tradition says that Thomas went on to preach from Jerusalem to India, where he was martyred. That’s about the same distance Asheville, North Carolina to Portland, Oregon. Thomas dropped his seeds of faith the entire way and God watered them until they became churches. Your seed of faith might lie dormant for years; it may never germinate at all. That’s ok. Jesus says that a seed is enough. One day Jesus will stand before you and invite you to drop your seed of faith into his nail pierced hands. The seed abide will in Jesus, fill with life, and sprout into new creation.
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