Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sanctifying our deepest questions

Doubting Thomas is an epithet too easily thrown about by those who live in the comfortable half light of unexamined certainty. Doubting is too often and too quickly interpreted as disloyalty, a lack of faith which implies lack of love. Following the resurrection, and after some had met and seen the risen Lord, Thomas seems to be the one asking the awkward questions, stubbornly refusing to be taken in by the stories told by others. Doubt is often dismissed as a spiritual fault, something to be guilty about; but some forms of doubt, including Thomas’s questions, are not guilty betrayal but struggling integrity. Perhaps Thomas wasn't playing the hard wired sceptic, nor the melancholic discourager of the others; a more pastoral view (which in the resurrection encounters is jesus consistent approach), might see him as one who needed encouraged but wouldn’t be patronised by platitudes and far-fetched stories. Perhaps his doubt and his earlier absence were not lack of loyalty but hurt love; a man disappointed because he hoped for so much.

Sometimes it’s the person who believes most who hopes most, who takes disappointment hardest, and for whom faith is hard won. None of us would come to faith if we had no personal encounter with the Risen Lord, and were asked simply to rely on the say so of others. The story of Thomas meeting Jesus, the melting of his questions and hesitations before the personal reality and soul shattering truth of God in that invitation - "Touch my hands...put your hand in my side....don't be afraid". It is one of the most moving and pastorally intense encounters we have, and when John said there were plenty more stories he could tell, and even the world as a library couldn't contain them, he still included this one. In doing that he sanctified the deepest questions we can ask about God and ourselves.

Whatever else Christian assurance is, it can never be the kind of certainty that forever disqualifies questions, or looks down on those for whom faith comes hard. Another Thomas, Thomas Merton, pointed out the dangers of superficial answers to those disturbing, persistent questions that are not the enemies of faith, but the living context within which faith affirms our trust in God, even if that means some questions are left unanswered. Indeed faith is nearest to the New Testament, when questions are asked, knowing that for now we see through a glass darkly.

But questions cannot go unanswered unless they first be asked. And there is a far worse anxiety, a far worse insecurity, which comes from being afraid to ask the right questions – because they might turn out to have no answers. One of the moral diseases of the church comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.

The story of Thomas, his unsureness and his honest doubt, tells of the difference between a church huddling in the pale light of an insufficient answer, and a church emboldened by the one answer sufficient to all questions - the crucified, risen Lord in the midst.


AnneDroid said...

Yes indeed. I like Thomas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jim. This is great.