When I was in seminary one of my professors looked at me one day and said, “Kaye, I think Thomas is your patron saint.” I was pleased with his comment. In academia it’s a good thing to be curious, to push the limits, to wonder, to doubt and to question. Not so much in the church.
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In my first appointment as an associate pastor, I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a pastor because I questioned God, and the church and myself. Did I have any faith? Was my faith meager and weak compared to my clergy colleagues because I had these questions? Was my sometimes mustard-seed-faith enough to be a pastor? So many of the doctrine I was supposed to support made no sense to me: Jesus dying for my sins, original sin, heaven and hell, the virgin birth, God “the Father.” I felt perfectly heretical.
It took years and a different church before I could fully convince myself that doubting and questioning were an important and necessary part of faith. Theologian Paul Tillich once said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.” Sometimes people will ask me if I ever have doubts (because certainly pastors never have doubts), and then they are surprised when I tell them “of course, all the time.” The key is that I engage my doubts and questions until I have come to peace within my heart about what I believe. Sometimes I have to come to peace with not knowing. I don’t let my doubts and questions drive me away from God. Truthfully, they may have driven me away from organized religion had we not formed this open-minded, question-encouraging community that honors each person’s individual spiritual journey.
I believe that Jesus honored each person’s spiritual journey and met each one right where they were. Thomas is the perfect example. Thomas just couldn’t bring himself to believe that Jesus, after his death, had suddenly appeared out of thin air, in the middle of a locked room, and spoken to his friends. Thomas needed to see it for himself. And I don’t blame him, I think most of us would be the same way. So what does Jesus do? He comes back and shows Thomas the marks in his hands and side, and Thomas believes. Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus meets Thomas right where he is; he comes back and says, “here, touch me, believe.”
Jesus never got upset when people asked questions, though he rarely gave them hard and fast answers. Usually he answered a question with a question of his own, or with a parable – something to make them think. You see, for Jesus, thinking was good! He wanted them to mull it over, to work through it until it made sense to them. It’s not unlike refusing to do your child’s mat problems, but helping them to work through the problems on their own.
I completely understand why people don’t want anyone to question their faith or their religion. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved, it’s scary (what if what you’ve always believed you decide was wrong?), and you might have to change. And, I understand why churches, priests, religions, pastors have discouraged people from questioning… because they really don’t have the answers. They are afraid that if you realize this, you may leave. However, they don’t realize that they could give you something so much more valuable and fulfilling – a place to explore, question, evolve and deepen your faith in a community of seekers.
Remember, we are each on a sacred journey. Journeys cause us to evolve and grow. Please doubt. Please question. Please wrestle with what you find until you come to feel it in your heart to be true. But know that someday even that truth may again feel in sufficient as you grow. We must constantly be open to changing.
Jesus met each person right where they were and gave them something to chew on to help them grow. The Divine, the Spirit the Holy One STILL works that way. Each of us is met in the place where we question – teachers appear, answers appear, more questions appear, experiences happen. We grow slowly but surely when we engage the questions. It’s hard at times, and frustrating at times, and unsettling almost all the time, but it is what makes this sacred journey worth it.