A series of reflections on Jesus’ resurrection appearances, contributed by past and present Pepperdiners. Today’s is from Seaver alumna Cari Myers.
John 20:24-31 Jesus Appears to the Disciples and Thomas
Growing up, I never heard Thomas’s name without “doubting” in front of it. I think for many of us this is the case. We’ve always kind of looked down on Thomas, like none of us would be right there with him if we were in this story. As I get older, I have developed a deep affinity for Thomas – I feel like Thomas gets a bad rap. Thomas does not seem to doubt Jesus as much as he doubts his community. It would be entirely speculative to wonder why Thomas does not immediately believe the other apostles: Maybe Thomas was the guy who always got left behind to put the fire out, or always got left with the fish head at dinner, or who had to sleep at the back of the boat where the waves splashed, or who always got the far outer rim of the group sleeping around the fire. Maybe Thomas was that one guy in every circle of friends who was the brunt of all the practical jokes. Lots of people are walking around carrying serious and debilitating wounds received from the hands of Jesus-lovers. Or maybe he really was questioning this whole Jesus thing, and his faith was just hanging by a thread, and he’d been avoiding the other apostles because he was so disillusioned with the whole thing. I sympathize – it’s hard to understand how the disciples must have been feeling at this point. Completely crushed, grieving, lost, angry, ashamed. Perhaps this is just Thomas’s point. When he says, “Unless I see the mark…” maybe he’s actually saying, “I want to be sure, because I don’t think I can take going through that again.” We don’t know – like I said – speculation.
I find this small story of Thomas very encouraging. Maybe Thomas was so sure of the character of Jesus that Thomas knew if it really was Jesus, he wouldn’t mind Thomas admitting he wasn’t sure. Maybe Thomas knew that Jesus was bigger than his fear or pain or anger or questions, and that out of all the faces on the room, Jesus could take “I’m just not sure” in the eye. This perspective is extremely liberating. The freedom to just admit “I’m not sure” is a gift. Because we have all wondered, deep in the wee hours, what we’re doing, who were are, if we’re where we are supposed to be, if God is who we always thought God was, and if we’re wrong about something along those lines, the whole sweater starts to unravel – what else might we be wrong about? The permission to admit that we struggle and stumble and doubt is very humbling – we have to admit that we really truly are not in control, that we don’t have the answers to most things, and that we are all truly united in our misgivings and errors. And that maybe God expected that from us and is not surprised or disappointed in the least.
I’ve noticed in much of church culture, people are very nervous to admit they are not ok. If they’re going to admit they are not ok, it is going to be something huge, maybe something they can no longer hide. Somehow, we’ve cultivated a culture where we shy away from confessing real, down-to-the-roots, laying it down in someone else’s hands, bare-soul struggle. With real stuff; embarrassing stuff. Stuff we think we should have beat a long time ago. We avoid this partly because if we admit it, we’ll have to deal with it, but we also avoid the subject because we don’t like to appear weak or vulnerable in front of other people. Matt Chandler calls this “burning down the house.” We didn’t know anything was wrong until the marriage imploded or the money went missing or someone goes to jail for 20 years.
Also, people who have doubts and question about what’s going on and why we do what we do are threatening. There are LOTS of unanswerable questions around God and the people who insist on pointing out inconsistencies and questioning doctrine are scary – we like comfort and security. These people make us feel unstable and anxious. Please be sure that when I say “doubt” I do not mean “criticize” or “create conflict.” Doubting is not just being contrarian and attention-seeking. I understand that people exist within our faith communities who thrive on (and initiate) crisis, chaos, and discord. These are not doubters. These are…something else for Dr. Lemley to teach us about in another post. What I mean by doubt is a sincere, humble-hearted questioning of the way things are, and the direction in which we sail and we are sailing. Doubters keep us accountable.
I’m just going to say it: I feel that maybe we should doubt more. I feel like there might be things going on in our churches where I wish someone from the pack would stand up and say, “I’m not sure about this. Are we sure we want to say that? Are we really sure we want to send that message? Is this really worth that much money? Are we sure this laughable thing isn’t of great value? I’m just not sure…” Every community of faith needs someone who asks critical (but helpful) questions. These people can help guard the community from complacence and corruption – they can keep us on track with our mission and keep our understanding of who we are called to be in our global community crystal clear. I feel like if you’re doubting, you’re growing. If you don’t move, you’re stagnant, and someone who is struggling is definitely moving. The trick is not to do it alone, and to question compassionately, humbly, and gently. May we all find ourselves in communities where it is ok to not be doing ok, and where we feel empowered to be the doubter who says, “I’m just not sure.”
Cari (Seaver, ’94) is in the throes of graduate work at Brite Divinity School. She spent several years as a Youth Minister at Richland Hills Church of Christ. She has blogged, and perhaps we can encourage her to do so again. She rooms with a Jack Russell, whose picture is available at Cari’s Twitter account. I expect great things.