In Defense of Questioners
“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.
—Malcolm Guite, St. Thomas the Apostle
Eastertide. I sometimes think we humans, prone to thick-headedness as we seem always to have been, are the real reason for this season. Perhaps as one last attempt to help his disciples understand what he’d been patiently trying to get across to them during the previous three or so years of his ministry, Jesus stuck around for another forty days after his Easter morning surprise simply to put an exclamation point on it all. I can almost hear him thinking, “For crying out loud! Don’t you see? Isn’t it clear to you now? What I’ve been teaching you is the real deal. What more do I have to do to prove it to you?”
It obviously worked to some extent, since we’re still working at comprehending the message some two millennia later. We probably wouldn’t be doing so if there weren’t something within us, something almost beyond our control that responds to the incredible allure of a message that carries the hope of heaven on earth. It’s the God-consciousness within us, I think, glowing like a spark, begging to burst into full flame (Pentecost will validate that), needing only for us to simply to exhale and believe. But doubt—perhaps the most human of responses we can muster in the face of resurrection—persists. Love alone can fix the mess we’re in? It seems we’re just not there yet…
Thomas, bless his heart, wasn’t quite there yet, either—and he didn’t mind saying so. A natural skeptic, he wasn’t inclined to just follow what he apparently considered to be the blind faith of his companions. He had questions—deep questions—that demanded answers. Until he got those answers—until he could “feel after [Jesus] and find Him in the flesh”—he would stand his ground. He wanted to believe, but his God-given propensity for wanting to see things from every possible angle meant he just wasn’t a candidate for blind faith.
Like poet theologian Malcolm Guite, I find Thomas’ honesty compelling. That “courageous master of the awkward question” is in fact one of my favorite New Testament characters, and as I see it, he often gets a bad rap for his honesty. Somewhere along the line, his willingness to confront a message that he must have considered counterintuitive with questions and skepticism became for us a pitiable trait. And that, I think, is selling him short.
The fact is, many of us are probably more like Thomas than we’re comfortable admitting. As I see it, our need to question and probe, and yes, to explore our doubts, is to be fully human. It connects us in a visceral way to both the Jesus of the cross, crying out from a sense of God’s abandonment, and the resurrected Jesus, inviting us to come to him, even in our doubts. Perhaps the supreme irony of doubt is that it’s actually a sign of faith that is very much alive.
As much as we want to believe that resurrection into new life is possible and that we’ve nothing to fear, Jesus’ radical example of unconditional love just doesn’t seem that realistic, much less prudent in these days of saber-rattling, greed, and the wholesale demonization of entire segments of humanity. It just doesn’t square with our empirical experience of the world in which we live. It’s a leap that seems foolhardy in the face of our desire for self-preservation—for security, predictability, and comfort.
Throughout it all, however, a loving Christ awaits us. It is a gentle, resurrected Christ who, while still bearing the wounds of his passion, has transcended those wounds, and invites us still to embrace him and to walk with him in The Way.
As Guite observes in a reflection on Thomas’ Eastertide demands for proof of the resurrection, Peter’s reaction to Thomas’ retort of “I don’t believe it” is significant. He (Peter) might very well have indignantly tossed Thomas out of the nascent church right then and there. He might have taken Thomas’ questioning of his report of an empty tomb and a risen Christ as an affront to his authority as the presumed leader of their little band of believers, demanding conformation merely for the sake of harmony in that chaotic Eastertide. But he didn’t. I suspect that Peter, too, was having a hard time really believing what he’d seen, but simply hadn’t the courage of Thomas to say so.
To welcome the questioners among us to exercise their doubts as fellow wanderers and to accept their unique timelines for navigating the mysteries of their own faith—that, as I see it, is one of the mandates of Eastertide. And the resurrected Jesus, patient physician that he is, stands ever ready to help us divine the wounded God whose wounds are healing ours.