“There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.” –Maya Angelou
I’ve been thinking a bit about Thomas. He was a guy in the bible who hung out with Jesus. Lots of Christians call him “Doubting Thomas”. They call him that in a sort of judgmental way…but a Christian judgmental way. Like: “Hey bro, I get it, I don’t know what I would do in that situation.” Meanwhile, they totally know what they would do in that situation…crush it. It all comes down to this story in the bible about a meeting with Jesus a few days after he had died. Thomas was out doing some stuff, and a bunch of his friends were huddled in a hut…or a flat…or a shack. It was a structure. The door was locked because they were all scared about what the religious ruling-class was going to do to them. Then Jesus pops in and says, “Peace be with you.” Which is Jesus-speak for: “Sorry about your soiled ephods”. He then showed them various evidences that he was the guy who died a few days earlier. When Thomas returned his friends told him what they had witnessed because Jesus had already bounced. Which is Patso-speak for: “He had taken his leave of them.”
Thomas didn’t buy it right off the bat…he was standing in a room with a bunch of people who were recovering from losing their shit a couple of days earlier when their worlds were turned upside down. He was standing in a room with a bunch of guys who had spent the last three days proving to Thomas, and one another, that they don’t always understand what’s going on–even when they say they do. The whole time that these guys were hanging out with Jesus he was telling them: “Hey I’m going to die but don’t worry, I’m going to come back to life three days later.” (Patso abridged) Then, when it all started happening, the disciples were all: “What the what? Let’s get outta Dodge!” So Thomas comes back and they’re like: “You’ll never guess who stopped by.” Of course he was skeptical, given the witnesses he was left to believe. I think Thomas’ inner-dialogue was conflicted. On the one hand, he knew that he’d misunderstood what Jesus was talking about when he was hanging out with him. On the other hand, he knew that that was true of everyone in the room. Added to that was the idea that if what they were saying was true, it would change everything. I think Thomas was the guy who took seriously the implications of the news that Jesus was risen. So he said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Eight days later they’re all hanging out in the same dwelling…still scared. This time Thomas is with them all and Jesus pops in again. And Thomas has a chance to see and believe. Jesus tells him put your hands in his wounds. He tells him to take it all in…to look dead in the face of the evidence. Thomas does and says: “My Lord, and My God!” Have you believed because you’ve seen? Jesus asks of Thomas. Then Jesus told Thomas blessed are those who believe and do not see. There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the term “blessing” in the bible. I don’t think it was a rebuke. Thomas only wanted the same evidence that everyone in the room had received eight days earlier. Let’s not forget that everyone in the room had evidence that Jesus was indeed risen and their reaction to this news–this upturn of world-view–this redefinition of authority–was to stay locked in a shack for eight more days.
I identify with Thomas. I would be the guy saying: “Are you sure you saw Jesus? You’ve gotten a lot of things wrong the past few days.” There are a lot things about Christian Dogma, particularly American Christian Dogma, that I don’t buy. This is not because I am a naysayer…or maybe it is precisely because I am that. But it’s also more than that. I have a lot of history with my church…and there are hundreds more years of history to be read and it is a history of a people who consistently misunderstand what God is telling them. It is a history of folks claiming to love God and people with their words and showing the opposite with their actions…a pantheon of hypocrites…just. like. me. I’ve believed in things I haven’t seen. Does that make me more blessed than Timothy? I don’t think it does. Jesus doesn’t seem to make a distinction between my relationship with Himself and Thomas’, if we are to believe that the blessing in question pertains to the relationship that Thomas and I share with Jesus. It seems to me the blessedness in question could be summed up thusly: “Thomas you have seen and have believed, that’s great, but blessed are those who don’t see, because they may not have the choice.” It is not a statement that makes a distinction in quality, rather it is a distinction in reality. Thomas had a blessed reality, he got to see for himself the evidence of Jesus’ claims. I have a blessed reality, though I haven’t seen, it has been seen to that I can believe.
The story of Thomas is not a cautionary tale of a disciple with the audacity to ask questions. It is not a fable about the virtue of willingly suspended-disbelief. It is a story of a God willing to answer questions–not required–but willing. In the midst of my disbelief over topics that have made their way–legitimately or illegitimately–into the canon of Christian dogma, I have no need to fear. I know that, in as much as I’ve made a commitment to God, He has also made a commitment to me. If I’m honest with Him, He can correct me on issues that I’ve misjudged. He does this in a myriad of ways…His word…the community in which He has placed me…and other ways that are at the employ of a sovereign being. In some ways God is still in the business of saying go ahead, put your fingers in here…