This Sunday, we heard the story of the apostle Thomas, who refused to believe in the resurrection until he had witnessed it for himself. All the other apostles had been there Jesus when Jesus appeared, but Thomas missed it. Thomas was sure the others were making the whole thing up. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe!”
To everyone’s surprise, Thomas got his wish. A week later, Jesus appeared again, holding out his hands for Thomas to touch. Seeing his teacher and friend raised from the dead, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” For the skeptical Thomas, seeing was believing.
I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas, having myself experienced a similar challenge of faith. I haven’t always been a Christian. There was a time when, though I was intrigued by Jesus, I just couldn’t believe all of the traditional theology of the church. I wanted to follow the man I read about in the New Testament, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around what it meant to call Jesus “the son of God.” I definitely couldn’t make any sense of the idea of bodily resurrection. I was convinced that God spoke through Jesus, but all these miracles and high theology seemed more like mythology than historical fact.
I was really lucky to be part of a (Quaker) Christian community that was able to embrace me in my doubt. Some churches might have distanced themselves from me when I started asking hard questions about the resurrection and other cherished Christian teachings, but I found space to wrestle with my doubts without having to leave the community.
Thomas wrestled with his doubt in community, too. It might have been easier for him to simply walk away from the other disciples, concluding that they were either lying or deluded in their visions of the risen Jesus. But instead he made the decision to stay, and his brothers were willing to put up with him and his challenges. I imagine he was arguing with them for the whole week before Jesus showed back up again!
I believe that this is an example that our modern-day Christian communities can learn from. Often, when our ideas about God are challenged we’re tempted to circle the wagons and distance ourselves from the skeptic. But this is a sign of weakness. Real faith can stand up to the honest questions of our brothers and sisters in community. The non-judgmental compassion of the Christian community is precisely what lends credence to the most fantastic claims of our tradition.
I wouldn’t be a Christian today if I hadn’t found a community that embraced me in my doubts, gave me space to explore and question, and invited me to go deeper. I think this is true for more of us than we imagine. Yet it is so tempting, once we finally accept the teaching of the church, to turn around and judge others for challenging the very beliefs that we were doubting only a few years ago!
It’s time to pay it forward. I want to be part of creating grounded, loving, non-judgmental Christian community – spaces where other doubting Thomases, just like me, can grow in truth and love.
What does it take to open up this kind of safe and sacred space, where our whole lives point to the beauty of the resurrection? What does it mean to lead lives so grounded in our faith that there is no longer any need to defend? How do we become a kingdom without walls?
I want to find out with you.