Tag Archives: faith

Doubting Thomas is not a scientist looking for evidence

John 20:19-31

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Every year we get Thomas. Every year, on the 2nd Sunday in the season of Easter we hear his story. And it can be a little tiresome, especially as the preacher. It can be tiresome to think of something new to say about this skeptic and his disbelief. And maybe for you hearing about Thomas year after year is boring or frustrating, hearing a message about believing despite evidence, or about having faith in the witness of those who tell you the story.

But this year the Thomas story seems different. In fact, this year the whole story, the story of Jesus from beginning to end, feels different. Maybe it started last fall with the Paris attacks and the shadow they cast over Advent and Christmas. Perhaps it is the shooting and violence we hear about non-stop, or maybe it is the racism and sexism that seems to hit the airwaves daily with people like Donald Trump and Jian Ghomeshi making the headlines.

The Thomas story seems different because it feels harder to care about the evidence like he seems to. We are used to doubting everything these days, including the evidence. There was a time before the World Trade Centre Towers fell on 9/11, back when Jean Chretien was Prime Minister, only one Bush had been president, the internet was only for computer nerds and Canadian teams had recently won the Stanley cup. Back then the world was relaxed enough and people had enough time to question whether or not Jesus even existed, Thomas’ question seemed like a legitimate challenge to faith and the church.

But not so these days. It is hard these days to worry about such frivolous objections to Christianity, when much bigger ones are out there, like politicians who use faith for political gain, along with racism and sexism. When the church has endured sex scandals, the fallout from residential schools, discriminatory policies about LGBT people and so on.

So it is hard to make the energy to be invested in Thomas’ desire for evidence, for evidence that the risen Christ was actually risen. Or least, it is hard to make the energy for this story in the way that we have become used to telling it.

But as usual, just because we are used to a story being told in one way, doesn’t mean we have it right.

On this second Sunday of Easter, we are transported back to the first Easter evening. That morning, the women had gone and reported that the tomb was empty (just as we heard last week). The disciples didn’t believe the reports, because they never believed what women had to say. And instead they are hiding away. Hiding because they are frightened of those in power and the authorities. Those same authorities, the temple priests, King Herod, Pontius Pilate… the ones that killed Jesus and who might be coming for his followers next.

And then Jesus appears among them. He offers them his peace, and breathes on them the holy spirit and goes on his merry way. But Thomas misses the whole thing. And when he does re-join the others, he will have none of their story. He wants to see Jesus himself, to touch his hands and side. Thomas seems to want evidence.

Or at least we think.

The world that Thomas lives in is less like the world of 20 years ago and more like our world today. We used to have trust for those in power and authority. We used to feel safe and protected, we use to trust that politicians had our best interests at heart, that our employers wanted to see use succeed, that our neighbours were trustworthy, that churches were places that proclaimed truth.

For Thomas, the powers and authorities of his world were dangerous, the governors and rulers were not only untrustworthy but likely wouldn’t hesitate to kill any one they found inconvenient. The market places were full of cheaters and jobs were hard to come by. People living under oppression wouldn’t hesitate to get in good with the Romans by betraying this silly band of Jesus followers. And religious rulers – well they orchestrated Jesus’ death in the first place.

Like Thomas, we feel less and less sure of our political leaders – especially with the Donald Trumps of the world vying for power. We know employers are trying to make the most profit, which means cutting costs at every corner. We don’t trust our neighbours because they are too different, they speak different languages, worship in different ways, they don’t seem to hold our values. And of course even though we are attending a church and seeking truth today, we know that churches and religious leaders often have agendas.

And so living in a world much more like Thomas’s than we ever have before, maybe we can see Thomas’ objection in a new way.

Maybe Thomas isn’t asking about the evidence, about scientific proof.

When Thomas says that he need to put his hands on Jesus’ hands, in Jesus’ side, in order to believe – ‘believe’ isn’t the best word to use for the greek. The best word would be trust.

And having problems with trust is something we know well.

Thomas wants to know who he can trust. In his world full of dangerous powers and authorities, full of people he isn’t sure care for him…. Thomas wants to know if he can trust Jesus.

And isn’t that what we want to know too. Not whether can we believe that someone was raised from the dead. But is Jesus someone we can trust? Is this message of the Kingdom of God coming near, of the call to go preach the good news, of resurrection and new life being given to us… are these things we can trust? Things we can stake our life and well being on? Are they safe?

We are coming to know what an unsafe world feels like more and more, and so maybe we now understand Thomas’s real objection better than we ever have before.

And so Thomas wants to know who he can trust in a world were there isn’t much trustworthiness to be found.

Yet in a world severely lacking in trust, Jesus shows up.

Jesus shows up to show God’s trustworthiness.

Jesus shows up and offers Thomas the very things that Thomas needs in order to trust.

Jesus shows up and offers the holes in the hands and in his side.

These wounds and scars are important details. It isn’t that just that Jesus has shown up. The wounds and scars tell the story of where Jesus has come from.

For Thomas the wounds and scars tell him that Jesus has encountered the dangerous powers and authorities. Jesus has been betrayed and killed.

But Jesus hasn’t been destroyed. The dangerous powers and the authorities did not overcome.

Jesus is trustworthy because all the untrustworthy things of the world did not have the final say.

Jesus is trustworthy because not only did he overcome the dangerous powers and authorities, but he came back for the disciples. He came back so that they, so that Thomas, so that all of us would be shown the way through – they way through the danger and peril. They way that is worth the risk and uncertainty. The way through that is not safe, but that ends with life.

Jesus shows that he is trustworthy, that all those things that he said about dying and rising on the third day, about the Kingdom of God coming near, about God’s love and forgiveness for sinners are worth the risk, worth trusting in a world where there is precious little to trust in.

And when he sees Jesus, when Jesus offers his hands and side, Thomas has his answer. Not the evidence we tend to think this story is about, but his answer to his fears and worries, to his uncertainty and insecurity.

Because Jesus shows that he knows the way to the other side of this messy and terrifying world we live in.

And today, when our world is so much like Thomas’s and our fears and questions and worries are like Thomas’s Jesus gives us our answer.

We too are shown the wounds and scars of the body of Christ. Jesus gives us a body, a community that has lived with the dangerous powers and authorities. The Body of Christ has been living its way through a world with precious little to trust for 2000 years. And the risen Christ comes to us again and again, week after week, year after year to show us that the wounds and scars of crucifixion, did not destroy us. That the Kingdom of God is always near to us, that God’s love and forgiveness are for given for us, that death will not be the end of our stories, but that Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection too.

Every year we get Thomas, and it can feel a bit tiresome… until the world changes and we change… and all of sudden it is like hearing it again for the fist time… it is like being there with Thomas, as Jesus comes showing us hand and side, reminding us of God’s trustworthiness.

Amen. 

Advertisements

Christians are not good at asking, “why?”

20131105-233052.jpg

First off, if you are looking for more reading on Millennials there is a lot out there. If you are looking for some of the ones I find most interesting, click on “Articles on Generations” in the tabs above. 

________________

Questions are bad

Sometimes I forget that most Christians, most people even, think that questioning something is disrespectful or aggressive on the one hand, or a sign of weakness on the other. We have all been in group situations either at school, work or in the community where a leader, teacher or presenter asks if there are questions in regards to the topic being presented. Often no one does. And it is not because the material has been presented so well that there are no questions, but no one wants to sound like they don’t understand something or don’t know what is going on.

Well, in the Church and among Christians we take this idea to a new level.  In my experience, most Church members really don’t want to appear like they have faith related questions. Worse yet, when they do know something about the bible or faith doesn’t seem to make sense, many believe that questioning it might cause them to lose their faith. Often when I do pre-baptismal visits with families who are bringing their child to be baptized (too many times because grandparents want them to, not because they are active church folk) they end up asking questions about the Bible and God and the Church. Usually I am told that grandma and grandpa, other older relatives, previous pastors or other church folk have to told them not to ask questions – just “accept it on faith”.

A new generation asks why?

In an article I recently read on Hiring Millennials for tech startups, it suggests that Millennials are more likely to ask “why?” than previous generations, and therefore more valuable in helping companies finding focus and direction. I have no idea if this is true or even measurable, but some of my experience supports this claim.

As a strong ENTJ on the MBTI, my deep need and compulsion to ask “why?” may very well be a personality trait more than a generational trait. However, my need to ask “why?” is precisely why I am still a Christian. The fact that I asked “why?” and questioned my faith is at the foundation of why I became a pastor.

Even from a young age I had the feeling (or idea) that the Bible didn’t always make sense. As a teenager, I knew that things like creation, the flood, jonah and the whale, and many other biblical stories as presented by some fundamentalist church members didn’t jive with science class at school. Fortunately, Lutheran doctrine and a pastor who didn’t want to take a stand on anything, allowed the rest of us in my home congregation to feel like it was okay to be members and not buy into the literalism stuff.

But still, I could feel the questions beginning to stack up when it came to the bible and faith by the time I was finishing high school. I had great youth leaders who were introducing us to all sorts of ideas like helping the poor, the effects of poverty and our systems of wealth that enable it. They were one of the important pieces that kept me in church. I also stayed connected by being involved with music in worship, going to the Lutheran Student Movement in university, and working at Bible Camps in my summers.  My family was great, they left my questions room to be asked, even when my parents didn’t have the answers.

Questioning the questions

University was sometimes a struggle to keep up my faith. It seemed very ‘in vogue’ in 2001 for historians, political scientists and other liberal arts profs to dump on Christianity and the Bible. And if I hadn’t been fortunate to grow up in a church and family that was steeped in scripture, I might have believed their criticisms. But as much as my questions were stacking up in regard to the contradictions in the bible and contradictions in the church, the criticisms weren’t making sense either. I was taking history and religious studies, and I could tell that I wasn’t getting the whole picture. I would feel sick as profs described Christianity, not because my beliefs were being questioned, but because a fundamentalist Christianity, that wasn’t the faith I knew, was being questioned.

I soon became tired of religious studies and searched the course catalogue for something that I wanted to take, something about faith. And then I stumbled onto the small Roman Catholic faculty of theology at the University of Alberta. Half way through my Bachelor’s degree, I started taking as many classes as I could. Classes from professional theologians (not historians and religious studies profs). Classes on science and religion not science classes that referenced the bible. Classes on Christian doctrine and theology not a social science of Christianity. Classes on real biblical scholarship not English literature that included the bible. Classes on real church history, not history in which the Church was marginally present.

The profs and classes made me feel like I finally had a reference point for my questions. It was like they gave me the box with picture on it of the puzzle I had been working on. I finally knew what I image I was putting together.

Theology became a serious discipline. Biblical studies finally showed me a hermeneutic that made sense. Church history filled in gaps of the secular history I had been studying. But most importantly, no question was disallowed. Everything was on the table. And the questions we couldn’t answer, like “does God exist?”, were given a framework to know why we couldn’t answer them.

My last two years on my undergraduate degree were like the last half of a Survivor puzzle, everything was coming together faster and faster.

Questioning Faith

Add a Master of Divinity and 4+ years in the parish, and I know that I don’t have all answers, I never wanted them. What I do have is the tools to ask the best questions and then make my way through them… which usually leads to more questions.

What makes me so sad is meeting people my age who are only loosely connected to their faith because their questions were shut down. They were told to fall inline and stop causing trouble by questioning the bible, the church, faith. I don’t know if that tactic really ever works, but I think Millennials have wanted to ask “why?” more than our parents. I think it is growing up in a world where we have been bombarded with media, marketing and sound bytes. I want something deeper, something with meat. Something that has room for questions.

Ask Us Anything

The Church has led the way in the “Don’t question us” department for decades. Maybe one of the things politicians and corporations have learned from us is that it is a lot easier to suppress questions than it is to answer them.

Maybe it is time for the Church to lead the way in “Ask us anything” department for a while. Maybe some of my Millennial peers might find getting the chance to ask “why?” is a compelling reason to try church.

Just remember, “just accept it on faith” is always a bad answer.
“I don’t know, so let’s find out together” is always a good one.

If we are serious as about sharing our faith, it is time for the church to allow room for a lot of “why?” questions. Everything has to be on the table… and it is not just Millennials who need to have some “why?” conversations – we all do.