As I have shared with many of you, I did not spend all of my life planning to become a minister. My vocational plans from middle school forward ranged from teacher to astronaut to marine biologist to professional clown to journalist. I began college as a biology major, fully intending to go on the medical school to become a doctor. Then I began to take some of the core religion classes, which were required for all of us at my liberal arts college, I discovered that I loved studying religion almost more than I loved studying science. The funny thing is that I think I approached both with the same kind of analytical perspective initially. I loved (and still do love) digging into the history and context of our biblical texts and the languages and the culture and politics that have influenced our theologies and religious practices over the centuries.
As I began to dig more into my major in religion, I had moments of pondering what it would be like to serve a church – and honestly, the thought kind of terrified me. I remember very distinctly a conversation with a friend during the spring semester of my Junior year. She asked me if I might be interesting in going to seminary and becoming a minister. I laughed and said, “I’m not arrogant enough to be a minister!”
You see, at that point in my life, I thought I had to have all the answers to be a good Christian – especially the kind that preaches and teaches to other Christians on a regular basis. Based on what I now know were limited examples of the faith, I thought Christianity in general and ministry specifically, were grounded in assertions that I was right,
that I possessed infallible truth,
and that I had it all figured out.
I was not ready sign up for such a course in my life.
I am grateful for the gift of time (I finally decided to enter seminary 7 years after I graduated from college). And I am grateful for good friends and wise mentors over the years who helped me understand that ministry had little to do with offering easy answers to hard questions.
Sometimes it involves asking even more questions.
Most of the time, it involves walking alongside others as we try to make sense of our faith in the midst of the messiness of life.
I have come to the point of embracing doubts and questions as vital parts of healthy faith. Because doubt is not the opposite of faith. Rather, it is so often the sign of an active faith – an indicator of the reality that we don’t live our lives in a vacuum. We are constantly faced with uncertainty in our lives…
We can’t control the weather.
We have no say in whether or not we or someone we love will get sick.
We don’t know how political decisions made somewhere across the world today might impact us tomorrow.
There is so much uncertainty in our lives – why do we expect our faith to be any different?
That is part of why I love this story from the gospel of John so much. I love Thomas.
Good old “Doubting Thomas”.
Good old “Realistic Thomas”.
Good old “I’m gonna have to see that for myself Thomas”.
John tells us that Thomas is called the Twin, and perhaps we are his other half. Because Thomas is me. And I bet he is you too.
But Thomas isn’t the poster child for failed Christians. He is the realist:
the one unwilling to accept easy answers to hard questions
the one so devastated by the horrors of the crucifixion that he needed to see and touch the good news of the resurrection for himself.
But as much as I identify with him, I don’t think this text is about Thomas. It is about Jesus. It is, as scholar Serene Jones writes, “a tale about God’s coming to us, wherever we might be” (Jones, Feasting on the Word, 402).
Notice the locked doors in this story. Twice Jesus enters the house where the disciples are hiding, and twice John describes him mysteriously appearing despite the locked doors. Jesus’ determination to reach those bound by fear and doubt and anxiety is the embodiment of love and grace. Again, Jones puts if beautifully: “So too it is with us. When doubt crowds out hope, we can be confident that Jesus will come to meet us where we are, even if it is out on the far edge of faith that has forgotten how to believe… God comes seeking us, stepping through the walls that hardship builds around us, offering love at the very moment that grace seems nothing but a farcical ghost story told by not-to-be-believed friends” (402).
I have been struck that Thomas doesn’t seem to recognize Jesus when he first enters the room. Perhaps it is shock. Perhaps it is the way we become blind to hope when we are so bound by despair. But “Jesus offers Thomas two clues to his identity. He speaks the simple words, “Peace be with you,” and then asks his doubtful friend to put his doubtful fingers into the wounds that he, Jesus, bears from the nails and swords that destroyed his body only days before. What does this tell us about faith? When God comes, we will recognize God’s presence in those moments when peace is offered, in those moments when life’s most brutal violence is honestly acknowledged, and when, in the midst of this bracing honesty, we realize that we are not alone but have, in fact, been always, already found” (Jones, 404).
This means that our lives of faith are lived best when they are lived authentically.
When we are willing to wrestle with hard questions.
When we are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of participating in genuine community.
When we bring the whole of ourselves – mind, body, and spirit – into our experience of discipleship. scars and all, trusting that God in Christ persists in meeting us where we are and sends us out to be wounded healers to others.
So here we are, a few thousand years later trying to live as Easter people, offering hopeful testimony of the resurrection and trying to be the body of Christ in the world. But to do so, we must place our faith in things not seen. This is no easy task for us, but it is the task we are called to as Christians. What is faith if it is not in things unseen?
It took me years to realize it, but faith is not about having all the answers. It is sometimes messy and complicated and at times peppered with doubt. And doubt is really not a bad thing. Frederick Beuchner once said that, “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith.” We need a little doubt in our faith to stir us and move us forward.
Because faith is not about standing up and saying some creeds and thinking everything should be simple after that. It is about taking risks and believing that God is at work even when we would have every reason to doubt it. We carry with us our questioning faith and are met by a God who meets us “not with a logically argued response… but a surprising proclamation of peace and touching love that is stronger than death itself. In the wonder of these wounds, he finds us” (Jones, 404).