Earlier this week on Facebook, I saw a cartoon that was perfect for this morning.
It depicted three disciples standing together.
The middle disciple says “Am I ever going to live it down?”.
Another disciple says, “Thomas, are you still on it?”.
“I don’t get it. We do not call Peter ‘Denying Peter’ or Mark ‘Run Away Naked Mark’.
There must be a reason that this ‘doubt’ remains central to Thomas’ character as we have and will continue to forever intertwine ‘doubt’ with ‘Thomas’.
There must also be a reason that this is one of a few scriptures read in church EVERY SINGLE YEAR and always the Sunday after the Resurrection (Easter).
I think this reason is that it speaks to our own journeys of faith as well as our own faith development and formation, but also our natural human character.
Please raise your hands:
- if you were or continue to be the inquisitive one?
- if you were or continue to always ask questions?
- if you, perhaps, got into trouble for asking ‘too many’ questions?
Although I see a few hands, these are slightly lifted and hidden as though there is shame.
There is NO SHAME in being the ‘inquisitive one’.
We misunderstand ‘doubt’ as the opposite of ‘faith’, or even ‘belief’.
We fear that if we have doubts, questions, or curiosities, then we are not being the ‘Christians’ that we should be.
BUT, doubt is not only part of our journey, but it can be the driving force for the journey that is our faith and our life.
We did not attend church when I was a young child, but begun attending when I was seven years old after my mother and ex-stepfather divorced.
He was an abusive alcoholic and abusers are ALL about control and manipulation.
One method of control was convincing my mother she was not ‘good enough’ to attend church because you have to have ‘faith’ and if you have ANY question about scriptures (and its stories), then you do not have ‘enough faith’ for church.
It is not a sound, logical argument to me.
Thus, the desire to return to church was a ‘rebellious act’ for my mother after the divorce. She sought a Lutheran church because that is the tradition she was raised in as a young girl.
So… I was the annoying, extremely inquisitive child at seven.
I asked questions and wanted answers for why we do (insert here) and the purpose.
I had and continue to have questions about the Scriptures and its stories.
I had and continue to have questions about Church teachings.
I had and continue to have questions about Church history.
Thankfully, the pastors did not simply indulge, but rather encouraged my curiosity and questions because they understood that not fostering it would be limiting. If encouraged to not explore, then I would eventually shut my mouth, shut my mind, and blindly believe whatever was told to me and especially from a pulpit.
In fact, one such pastor told our confirmation class that her responsibility was to provide us with tools for our spiritual journeys not to force us to be Lutheran (or even Christian).
This has become a guiding, foundational, and essential principle in my journey, my call, and the purpose of said “call”.
Then she continued with invaluable piece of advice:
If you ever find yourself in a community, especially one of faith,
which discourages or will not permit you to ask questions: RUN!
Afterwards, while continuing to be nurtured by pastors, I decided to academically study religion and religious traditions at Arizona State University (ASU).
During my studies at ASU and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) and since, I have been asked by numerous persons:
- Do you still believe?
- What has your studies done to your faith?
Well… the studying, the exploring of my curiosities, questions, and doubts had, have, and will continue to strengthen my understanding, further my spiritual development, and more deeply root my faith formation.
I was and continue to seek answers to all the curiosities.
I was and continue to seek answers to all the questions.
In order to seek said answers, you are required to actively engage instead of passively receiving.
So, Thomas has been given an unfavorable reputation as one that will not blindly accept the story of the other ten disciples on their word alone (which may have been wise).
But, I firmly believe that God desires all of us.
Thus, God does not desire our minds, intellect, logic, and/or reason to be left behind at those church doors.
Those moments of curiosity, questions, and (even) doubt can be fruitful:
- if we decide to actively seek answers instead of sitting passively;
- if we decide to engage these ‘challenges’;
- if we decide to allow curiosities to lead us to spiritual growth and faith formation; and
- if we decide to allow questions to lead us to deeper relationship with God and those willing to travel the journey with us.
It can be quite powerful.
Doubt is not the opposite of belief. Disbelief is the opposite of belief.
I encourage us to enter into the journey of ‘doubting’ Thomas.
Let us seek answers to our curiosities.
Let us not be shy, but ask and explore the challenging questions.
Let us not be fearful that we might ‘disappoint’ God with our curiosity, question, or doubt.
The majority of you are parents…. Would you rather…
your child hid their curiosity, questions, doubt, and lives from you
your child seek the answers in conversation and relationship with you?
I imagine we all would prefer the children (and others) to come to us, to share their curiosity, questions, and doubts in trust…
why would God be different?
May we take our curiosities, questions, and doubts to God Godself trusting that the only risk is the amount of spiritual growth and faith formation we will experience. Amen.
Scripture was John 20: 19-31.
Originally preached on 28 April 2019.