The Lesson of Thomas

doubting_bigThe story of “Doubting Thomas” is pretty clear, framed as it is with the stories of the marvelous healing abilities of the apostles following the death of Jesus. We can see it as a directive of the church–believe in the message. In other words, trust that what we have said is true.

This is a necessity of course since Jesus was no longer physically among them. On what basis would people believe in the fantastical story that they were beginning to tell. Why indeed should we believe?

Thomas’s conversion at the feet of the risen Lord assures us that the stories of the bible are true and can be believed. Don’t be like Thomas we are told, believe in the Word!

As I said, this was a necessity to the fledgling group of Jesus followers who found themselves in not only dangerous lands where death could be pronounced on those who preached this anti-power message, but telling a story that was difficult for anyone to swallow on its face. A man travels around preaching a new doctrine quite apart from normative Judaism, allegedly curing the sick and outcast of society, eating and drinking with these misbegottens, and then is hanged on a tree in the dump outside Jerusalem with other common criminals? Really?

Even to a people more inclined to believe in the supernatural than we, it’s a stretch isn’t it?

We are today of course, encouraged not to be doubting Thomas’s ourselves, and for some believers, it becomes almost a mainstay of their faith lives. It becomes the banner of those who refuse to consider any deviation from “absolute and total” faith as some dark weakness that may lead to eternal damnation. Stop your ears! Cover you eyes! Do not doubt for one second lest you lose the kingdom!

But of course a reading of the story in John suggests nothing of the sort. Jesus calls Thomas to him, shows him the evidence. Thomas, now convinced, falls at the feet of the Master and proclaims him Lord and God.

While Jesus does bless those who have not doubted, (or the Church inserts such language to bolster its argument), Jesus does not condemn Thomas in any way, or lay any penalty upon him for his reluctance to believe based on the words of his friends, the other apostles.

Perhaps then we can draw a bit of a different lesson from all this.

Is it not interesting that Thomas was unprepared to simply acquiesce from the claims of his friends? After all, Thomas had been with these men and women for some three years. Did he not find them trustworthy? Apparently he did not. Perhaps it was the lack of faith they themselves had expressed and evidenced with the arrest and trial and murder of their leader. Perhaps his own willingness to hide himself from the authorities caused him to be skeptical of the new-found “faith” of the others. Were they not all too human, susceptible to fear and confusion to be trusted with such a revelation?

Was not Thomas’s doubt a good thing?

Should we invest our time and our fragile psyches to unquestioning faith just because “somebody” assures us that we should?

If you spend time talking with atheists, most especially the “new atheists” (some call them evangelical atheists since they exhibit some of the same unflinching dogmatic surety of the fundamentalist), you will assuredly find that a good many of them, if not most, are former believers. And they were not ordinary believers for the most part, but fundamentalist believers, the most rabid, the most “sure” believers among us.

Ask a fundamentalist if she has any doubt about the truth of  Christianity, and you will get a swift assurance that her belief is total. She will regale you with stony firmness that there is NO doubt in her mind that the bible is indeed the literal word of God.

As we know, when such persons finally, if ever, discover that indeed this is not, cannot, be true, their faith is usually shattered beyond repair. Their faith is based upon the Good Book, not the working out of a philosophical foundation which makes faith reasonable and thus believable. If the book is shown to be faulty in ANY manner, then the foundation cracks and crumbles into dust.

Thomas reminds us that faith, to be enduring, and I would add, mature,  must be based on something more than the claims that some words in a book are absolutely true and beyond question. Questions are good. Some Jewish scholars would argue that the bible is to be read on four levels, and among them, the first–literalism–amounts to the understanding of a child.

Questions force us to confront the internal conflicts and contradictions of immature faith. If faith is to be mature and thus lead to a real conversion of spirit and growth into a “better” way of being human, it must confront and work through these issues. The bible thus becomes the place to uncover these very conflicts and becomes the basis of our truest conversion.

If our passion for truth and desire to believe and know this God is real, then we are compelled to reconcile the contradictions that exist within the Bible (for they are surely there if one honestly looks). By the reconciliation we uncover a God far greater, far more impressive, and far more loving, than the deity portrayed in the superficial reading at the literal level.

Jesus was the teacher we should emulate–for he told us to set aside all the Pharisaic rules of faith and seek the simple loving presence of God. He cut through the red tape. Unknowingly perhaps the early church gave us the means to do that, in the guise of Thomas.

 

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aliceny
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 10:42:23

    Like what you have postulated here. Has been true in my case, especially after leading a Scripture study group in my parish for over 14 years (using an excellent program, fortified by Commentaries and other excellent biblical resources).
    Questioning is essential. It is really the best way that we learn because it forces us to dig deep. As a result, our faith in Jesus and His Word, as brought to us by the Gospel writers and Paul, increases a hundredfold.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    Reply

  2. Sherry
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 14:30:39

    God gave us brains. It seems a great disservice to his gift to not use it. And doubt is part of faith, for faith after all is believing without knowing. It is the tension of this that I think makes for meaningful deep contemplation and discovery, and conversion on a deeper level.

    Reply

  3. Tim
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 15:00:42

    Sherry, as you know, I come from Fundamentalist stock, where the line between faith and literal knowledge doesn’t exist. When I talk with people who think that, I remind them that faith is the essential bridge that moves us from relying on what we can prove to what we must believe. Faith that mistakes belief for proof isn’t faith; it’s fantasy. As you so splendidly point out here, Jesus recognizes Thomas’s need to ask questions, and honors it by enabling him (Thomas) to reach out in faith and touch Him. That’s how it works for all of us.

    I thought I’d pass along our church’s Prayer of Confession from this morning, which touches on many of the same points you raise here:

    God, the paths that lead away from You all too familiar. We trod heavily the path that doesn’t believe You are big enough to hold our questions and doubts. We shy away from the path of engagement that requires picking up responsibility and accountability along the way. Walking alone, we think that we can do it all by ourselves, without You or the presence of a community. We take two steps forward in our relationship with You, only to take three steps back for fear of how that might change us. Help us this day to walk a new path… the one that leads to fullness of life. Amen.

    Thank you for these thoughts. They are always timely and remind us of the miracles that faith can work in us when we bring our questions and doubts to God.

    Many blessings,
    Tim

    Reply

  4. Stephanie Jill Rudd
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 01:42:35

    This is a wonderful post. I am reblogging this as it is a very valid and valuable post.

    Reply

  5. Stephanie Jill Rudd
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 01:43:27

    Reblogged this on livinginthemonasterywithoutwallsdotcom and commented:
    This is a well expressed post which I really liked. The blog is also a very good one in my opinion and well worth exploring further.

    Reply

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