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The Fallout From Thomas

Did you know that the story of Thomas from the Gospel of John is the prescribed scripture the Sunday after Easter in all three lectionary cycles. Why is this story so important? Or perhaps a better question is: why was it so important to the people designing the lectionary cycles?

And, considering that we don't find this story anywhere else in scripture, and John was the last of the gospels to be written (probably about 60 or so years after Jesus’ death) it makes sense that this story was contrived by the author of John. But why?

Given that neither the hearers of John's gospel, nor (obviously) anyone today had ever met, seen or heard Jesus personally, my guess is that the story of Thomas served to reinforce believing in Jesus despite the extraordinary claims of Easter and the resurrection. It’s as if John is saying, “None of you have personally seen the risen Christ, so you are all doubting the stories, and thinking, this is crazy, why should I believe you? But, Thomas doubted and then saw and believed. He proclaimed: "My Savior and my God!” (or “My Lord and my God!”). Jesus responds by saying, “Blessed are you who believed because you saw, but even more blessed are those who believe without seeing!”

Wow. Even more blessed are you who believe without seeing. That’s some message! We all want that! If only we can just lay aside our doubts and believe. What John probably didn’t realize is that there has been fallout from this story, that I believe has been detrimental.

Over the years Thomas has become the universal symbol of the questioner/doubter/cynic. And being compared to Thomas always has a derogotory tone. The church has historically (and conveniently) put Thomas down and used Jesus’ words to him to discourage anyone else from questioning. Questioning has been seen as a weakness in one’s faith. I know many people who've been told by their priest or pastor not to question.

But if we didn’t ask questions our world would never evolve! There would never be new inventions or medicines or solutions. Or is it ok to ask questions about everything else and not about God? My answer is no. Engaging the questions of faith is the only way to greater spiritual depth and owning what we believe.

If you have ever tried to help a child with their homework, you know that they learn and absorb more when they engage what they are doing and ask questions. Plus, we all know that cheating and regurgitating answers without understanding gets you nowhere.

I would suggest that we all want greater spiritual depth, we want to find our truth, but the process isn’t easy. It takes time, effort, study and analyzing. And this isn’t like solving a math problem, where once you have the answer you’re done. There is no end to the discovery of the Divine in this world, there is only a path that goes deeper and deeper into understanding and oneness.

Let's talk about being “dead certain,” analysis paralysis, ice cubes and the Mother Superior.

Dead Certain – is the exact opposite of questioning. It’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? We all know people who don’t question anything about faith or religion. They are convinced they have the answers to all of it and aren’t interested in learning anything more, or hearing another perspective. They are “dead certain” of what they believe and think. Maybe that phrase is more apropos than we know. When we are certain, we leave no room for growth and change and therefore, are dead. Spirituality is meant to be a dynamic process of transformation… that doesn’t happen with dead certainty.

Analysis paralysis – can be a major impediment to growth when it comes to questioning. Analysis paralysis means that you are trying to process so much information about a question you have that it is overwhelming and leads to giving up! It’s easier to leave things the way they are sometimes than to try to figure out a new way. The epitome of this for me is going to a family owned Greek restaurant where there are 8,000 choices on the menu. I invariably end up getting the same thing. When it comes to spirituality, there is so much information out there, so many perspectives, it is hard to know who to listen to, and it can be too overwhelming to even try! BTW - if you Google "analysis paralysis" you’ll get over 1.3 million hits.

Ice cubes – a friend was sharing the concept that learning new things is like melting an ice cube… the ice becomes water, but you don’t know what shape it is going to take next. That can be very disconcerting. The puddle phase is a place of pondering, seeking, learning, and sitting with the questions until the “truth” emerges. And even then, it may simply be the “truth” for the moment, and the “truth” may look different for you a few years down the road.

Mother Superior –  One of my favorite quotes is from the Sound of Music is when the Mother Superior is talking to Maria as she’s struggling to decide what to do. The Mother Superior says, “I try to keep faith in my doubts.”  I LOVE this. Perhaps it isn’t one or the other. Perhaps they aren’t two ends of the spectrum and mutually exclusive. Perhaps we need to hold both at the same time.

So, I'm encouraging you to please doubt and question, but don't give up! Engage the spiritual journey and it will reward you with depth and growth.

Love & Light!