Monday, April 4, 2016

The man who touched a wounded God

My sermon for today was based on John 20:19-31.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

I have always been charmed by Thomas, whom history remembers as "Doubting Thomas" because he doubted the Resurrection.  Ironically, in another Gospel, all of the disciples accuse the women who reported the empty tomb of telling "idle tales", but for some reason, none of them get tarred with the epithet "Doubting", but that is perhaps for another sermon.

The reason Thomas charms me is that I can relate to his doubt.  I have doubts.  I have questions.  Let's be realistic: if someone came up to you and said, "This guy we knew who we all saw dead and buried is alive again!", most of us would likely react with doubt.  In fact, if you did not react with doubt, I would say you were a credulous moron.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, by definition the Resurrection is unbelievable.  It's a miracle, it's not supposed to be easy to believe.

Far from being the opposite of faith, I am firmly convicted that doubt actually deepens and enhances our faith.  Abigail Van Buren once wrote, "A lack of faith is not doubt.  It is certainty".  Certainty is what drives daesh, suicide bombers and the Westboro Baptist Church.  Certainty leads to a closed mind that is not open to discussion, new thoughts, new ideas and intellectual growth.

Faith, on the other hand, coexists with doubt.  Doubt leads us to explore, ask questions, expand, evolve.  Doubt, if anything, leads us to a deeper faith than we had before.  Doubt is not the enemy of faith.  It gives birth to faith, and I think this is one of the most poignant messages of the story of Thomas.

Thomas' doubt leads him to do something the other disciples do not.  He actually touches Jesus' wounds, and in touching his wounds, Thomas comes to know Christ and God in a much more intimate way that the other disciples.  Thomas has a spiritual experience in this moment, where his entire theology and perception of God undergoes a massive shift.  This experience leads him to cry out, "My Lord and my God!"

This is the first time in the Bible that the term "God" is used in reference to Christ.  Contrary to popular belief, the disciples did not seem to identify Jesus as the Son of God during his lifetime.  They believed he was the "messiah", but although this word seems to signify "Son of God" for most modern Christians, the term actually means "anointed one" and was used to refer to any king in Judaism who had been chosen by God to lead, and who was therefore ceremonially anointed as King.

Nowhere in the Gospels, other than Thomas' exclamation, does anyone refer to Jesus as God.  This term is certainly used in the other books of the New Testament, but these were all written some years after the Resurrection, and the theology of Christ's God-hood had had time to develop.  Thomas seems to have been the first to make that leap of theology, and it was a leap from transcendent to immanent theology.

Broadly, the Judaism of Jesus' time was characterized by a transcendent theology of God which posited that God was forever removed from us, that he exists apart from reality, outside of our sphere of experience.  In other words, God by his very nature is forever removed from us and inaccessible to us.

Immanent theology, which theoretically characterizes Christianity, posits that God is manifested in creation, and as such, God's nature is all-pervasive and we can experience that nature all around us, all the time.  In other words, God is always with us and accessible to us.

And Thomas was the first to make that leap, to realize that Jesus was the very embodiment of God and of this theology.

But why?  How?

I think it had to do with Thomas touching Jesus' wounds.  A transcendent theology or philosophy has difficulty with an emotional God.  It can't seem to wrap its head around the notion that God loves, God cares, God feels, God can grieve and be wounded.  How can he?  Under this theology, God is so far from us and so elevated that we must be beneath his regard.

But when Thomas touched Christ's wounds, he suddenly became aware that God was not transcendent but immanent.  God was present with us, God cared deeply indeed.  So deeply that he was willing to be betrayed, mocked, scourged, crucified and buried.

The other disciples saw Jesus and believed, but Thomas touched him,  No longer could Thomas say that God did not know what it was to be human.  No more could Thomas say that God was not with us and among us.  No longer could Thomas say that he had not seen the face of God, because he had gone ahead and actually touched the wounds of a God who was willing to suffer with us.

And because of his doubt, he was changed forever.

So if you doubt, please know that you are on the right path.  Faith, as I have said before, is a struggle.  It is a path to self-knowledge and of coming to know the divine.  That's not easy.  It's nowhere near as easy as just knowing things.  But the consequence of following this path, despite its difficulties and trials, is a great knowledge of ourselves, of our neighbours and of God.

So keep doubting, for the love of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment