Sunday, April 27, 2014

"For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible".

I can really relate to today's Gospel passage (John 20:19-31) which centers around the Apostle Thomas.  I guess more accurately, you could say I can relate to Thomas.

I cannot always say the same for Jesus.  I had never thought seriously about this until a seminary class where a female colleague commented that she had trouble relating to Jesus because he was male.  This got me thinking about how I related to Jesus, and I realized that I had very little in common with Jesus, despite sharing his gender.

I am a WASP; he was a Middle Eastern Jew.  I live in North America; a continent he didn't even know existed.  I live 2000 years after he died (give or take).  He performed miracles; I bungle even the simplest card tricks.  He always had the wisest, kindest, Godliest responses to every situation; I certainly do not.

So in reality, what can you or I really have in common with Jesus?

This is where I can really get behind the disciples.  The disciples, compared to Jesus' near-perfection, are glorious examples of human frailty and failure.  From Peter's impulsiveness to Judas' treachery, whether they are named or not, the disciples display the entire spectrum of human dysfunction in a way Jesus simply does not.

Take Thomas: despite bringing the Gospel to India, he is best commemorated instead by an epithet which Christians and non-Christians alike employ: Doubting Thomas.

Is doubt such a bad thing, though?  Some of us may have had negative church experiences where we were told not to question.  To that I say rubbish.  Did Jesus chastise Thomas for his doubt?

Here is the thing: people who are certain about things, whether that be religion, politics, science, philosophy, sports, music or whatever, scare the heck out of me way more than doubt.

Here's why.

Certainty is hard to shift.  Certainty usually goes hand in hand with obstinacy and a certain rigidity of thought: "I know what I know and I will find every possible proof to do what I can to prove myself right, even if I am wrong".

Doubt on the other hand indicates to me a certain flexibility of thought: "I am not convinced I know what I think I know, and I am willing to entertain different viewpoints, even if it means challenging what I think I know".

While doubt has often been equated with insecurity, it is actually the mark of a healthy mind.  A person who doubts is pushing their own personal boundaries, exploring alternatives, considering other opinions and worldviews in a way that a certain person is not.

All things in moderation, of course.  An excess of doubt can paralyze you.

But how many of us in Thomas' place would have responded any differently than him?  How many of us would have turned to the other disciples who had apparently seen the risen Christ and NOT said, "Yeah, pull the other one".

The fact is that Thomas responded in a very human way, and this is why he is so darn relatable.

So I say entertain your doubts.  Question everything.  Don't just believe what you have been told.


Perhaps the most important thing about Thomas in the end is that he had enough faith to reach out an touch Christ's wounds.  He could have just crossed his arms in the face of the proof he was asking for and said, "No, I STILL will not believe", but his didn't.  He reached out in faith and grasped the proofs he was seeking.

Therefore, while we must entertain doubts, we must also make an equal effort to entertain faith.  While asking questions and seeking answers, we must be prepared to accept some mysteries and reach out in faith.

American social economist Stuart Chase wrote, "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible"

Truer words were never spoken, but I don't think that being at either end of that spectrum is a good thing.  I don't think there is much value in being a believer who asks no questions, on a non-believer who accepts no answer.

This day, I hope you will find a balance.

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