Tag Archives: Doubting Thomas

Have Unspeakable Doubt?

FPC

“I’m not all that sure I believe in the virgin birth.”

“Really,” I said, raising my eyebrows in surprise.  “Why not?”

Not an unusual conversation, certainly.  But close your eyes and picture one of those silhouettes on a news show, speaking in a voice that’s been digitally disguised to protect the identity of the speaker.

“Well,” said the silhouette, “that’s not exactly something you say if you feel called to be God’s minister in the world.”

I smiled a rueful acknowledgment and waited.  I don’t know how many others this minister confided in, but even now, years later, I feel privileged that this person I respect so much was honest enough to admit to questioning the faith we share.  It is one of the dialogues that has shaped my own faith journey.

I thought of this conversation again today when a friend of mine called and asked how I was doing.  She knows that I’ve been wrestling with why God suddenly took a close friend who was making a difference in the world and yet left my mom in a nursing home, trapped and confused inside a body debilitated by two strokes.

Having had the wind knocked out of me by my friend’s death three months ago, I have regained some equilibrium.  For me, it always helps to dump the unanswerable questions on the floor and wade through them with people I trust to understand.  I told my friend that my only certainty sometimes is that the Spirit is in the muck with me.  I study the holy texts of my faith every day, as best I can in my limited understanding.  Ultimately, I’ve decided to leave the details of what happened 2000 years ago and what will happen after I die up to an unfathomable God.  I can’t control either of those things, so I’ve decided that I will live my life as abundantly as I can for as long as I can.

“Funny you should mention control,” my friend responded.  She shared that she heard a sermon at her church recently where the minister explained that we must give up control—and that it’s not in our nature in the modern world to give up control.  She said, “So what am I supposed to do—quit my job and sit on my butt and wait for God to put food on my table?”

I laughed.  We both knew how ridiculous that sounded and that that isn’t what her pastor meant.  And like all human beings, we understand the struggle to find balance in a faith full of contradictions.

She laughed.  “I do struggle with that.  You and I are going to have to sit down over a bottle of wine some time and talk about all the questions.  I just don’t get why things like Sandy Hook happen.  And if God doesn’t answer our prayers to keep that from happening, why do we pray?”

“I know,” I said.  “For me, all I really know is that praying somehow brings me closer to that Spirit that is in us all.  And I know that every single time I’ve cried out, I’ve felt that Presence, and I can’t chalk that up to coincidence.  And when I cry out, I’ve seen the face of God in the people who love and comfort me.”

We both admitted that we pray we are never tested in the way the Sandy Hook parents have been.  It’s hard to breathe when I think about that.  Would I still cling to my faith?  I honestly don’t know, and I pray that I never have to find out.  But I do know with certainty that if the unspeakable happened, I’d see the face of God in people of any faith and no faith who would gather ‘round me and wrap me in their arms, just as they did ten years ago when I had cancer.

Today’s lectionary reading is the passage from the Book of Acts where the apostles choose a replacement for Judas.  And do you know how they do it?  They cast lots.  I’ve read that passage many times, but it is only recently that I really paid attention to that detail.  These men—who have seen Jesus perform miracles, who should understand God better than any of us ever will—ultimately leave the decision up to chance.  I chuckle.  And I suspect I’m not the only one who finds humor in the stories of ordinary human beings in the face of the uncertainty.

I think again of that silhouetted minister, admitting doubts just as Thomas did and spending a lifetime in search of the answers–and along the way, being the face and hands and feet of God in the world in spite of all the personal doubts.

And I wonder what would happen if we allowed our ministers and our leaders and ourselves to voice the unspeakable questions that—if we’re honest—we all ask.

Speak.  Tell me the stories of your own questioning.

What is a “True Christian”?

Pentecost w Artist Effects

   This week a friend of mine, who’s an atheist, posted a link to a video of a guy who spent five minutes ranting about how he didn’t understand how any woman could be a Christian.  I respect my friend as a thinking person who has actually read the Bible before accepting it or rejecting it, because I know a number of skeptics and believers who have based their opinions on what they’ve heard is in the Bible.  So because I respect him, I watched the video all the way through as the speaker raged, making the same claims over and over again without ever pointing to much of anything specific to support his argument, as if repeating it endlessly might make him believe it himself.
 
   Afterwards, I wrote back to my friend, telling him that while I respected his opinions, there are far more logical atheists who actually have sound arguments for what they believe.  He wrote back to me, suggesting that, because I choose to focus on the messages of grace in the Bible, I am “cherry-picking.”  He said that if people are going to accept part of the Bible, they have to accept it all:  “A person cannot be a true Christian without believing in the teachings of the Bible.”  Translation—you, Estelene, are not a true Christian.
 
   So here we are again, in an either/or world—a world that so many of us want to see in simplistic terms—black or white, right or wrong, for or against.  I can’t accept such a world. The world is sometimes light, sometimes dark, sometimes dusk, sometimes dawn.  The world is sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy, sometimes both—resulting in an amazing rainbow.  People are sometimes good, sometimes evil, sometimes a mix of the two—simply complex human beings.
 
   And that’s the way I read the Bible.  It isn’t the inerrant word of God.  It isn’t a collection of mythical stories meant to teach a lesson.  It’s the stories of people who are struggling with good and evil, light and dark, hate and love.  Sometimes they completely miss the mark, and sometimes they’re close.  Just like you and me.  And my favorite stories in the Bible are those where Jesus is kind and understanding to the people who can’t quite reach him but can’t quite let him go either.
 
   First, there is the story of the woman who just needed to reach out and touch Jesus’ robe to know she will get the healing she needs. Jesus is being jostled in a huge crowd, and He suddenly stops and asks who has touched Him. The woman figures she will never get Him to give her the time of day with all those people demanding His attention, but she is convinced she will be okay the moment she touches Him.  And she is.
 
   The second is the story of the man whom we have come to know as “Doubting Thomas.”  Jesus appears to the disciples after the crucifixion, and Thomas can’t believe it unless he sees it for himself.  The part I love about the story is that Jesus understands Thomas’ doubt and tells him, “Here, stick your fingers in these wounds and see for yourself.”  I also love it that Thomas is willing to reach out his hands and take a chance that his doubts might be wrong.
 
   The third of my favorites is a father’s story.  This man’s child has been plagued by convulsions all of his life, and the father can do nothing. He asks the disciples to heal his son, and the disciples, too, are powerless. When the father sees Jesus, he cries out for help. Jesus tells him that if he will just believe, his son will be healed. The man declares his belief, but then, in the same breath, he begs, “Help my unbelief,” which shows that he really isn’t sure at all. The wondrous thing here is that Jesus seems, again, to understand the doubt of this tormented father, and He heals the man’s son despite the man’s wavering faith.
 
   Do I believe everything in the Bible is to be taken literally?  Of course not. I don’t believe God thinks a woman should be stoned for adultery or that women should just shut up in church.  But do I believe the stories of Jesus are simply stories—made up to make us think about what the world would be like if we live as we should?  No.  But even if I end up being wrong about that when I leave this earth, what a glorious set of stories they have been for me—helping me to see the world as it should be.
 
   To me, a true Christian is someone who lives a life like Christ—the fully human man who challenged the know-it-alls, who used the resources he had to heal the sick and champion the least among us.  Not such a bad way to be—and every bit as beautiful as that rainbow that we can only see when we’re willing to accept both the rain and the sunshine at the same time.
 
   So tell me the favorite stories of your faith.