As we celebrate your feast day today I can’t help but cringe when I think about the number of times I’ve heard people chide the use of your modern-day nickname “Doubting Thomas.” As much as I’d rather not admit it, I, too, have declared from the pulpit that it’s demeaning and unfair to emphasize your apparent skepticism surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.“We should remember that Thomas was more than a doubter,” I’ve counseled the congregation I serve. These days though I’m less convinced that emphasizing your questions is a bad thing. The truth is, I find great comfort in your so-called expressions of doubt. I’ve rarely been persuaded by someone else’s experience of God.
Convinced? That’s a harder sale.
During my sophomore year of college, I attended a weekly bible study with 25 or so other undergrads. Although I found the opening songs and “cheers for Jesus” far too pithy for my taste, the group’s tenacity and joy challenged my tendency toward melancholy. Of course, it also plucked my last nerve; I yearned to shout that just because God is good, life doesn’t always feel good. But, I was too scared of being an outlier. Shortly into the second semester, a classmate recounted her mystical encounter with God that included a glowing aura and “God’s audible voice.” While others were in awe, I wanted to roll my eyes. (To this day, I fear that rather than thinking about rolling my eyes I actually rolled them.) “Give me a break,” I thought. “That type of stuff doesn’t happen anymore.” Deep down though, I was jealous of her moment of holy ecstasy. “Why doesn’t God speak to me that way?” I wondered. I couldn’t reconcile my classmate’s confidence in God’s direction for her future while I fretted about my own future and mapped out a slew of possibilities and scenarios. That night went on to become my final night with the group.
What had been a salve for some had become a source of pain and frustration for me. Instead of stories about sublime encounters with God, I yearned for a space to question, wonder, and wrestle. I needed to know that nothing was too far out of bounds, too strange, or even too demanding. I wanted God to redeem my darkness. More than that, I wanted to know if there was enough space at God’s table of grace for people like me – people who were sometimes slow to reconcile the seemingly improbable with reality. I needed to be Doubting Maria without apologizing for it.
Nearly twenty years later I’m still not sure what to believe about my classmate’s experience, but it no longer matters to me. In coming to know more about your story – your questions, your demands, your determination, and your commitment to suffer with and for Jesus as a missionary – I know without a doubt that Christ receives and welcomes all of us to his supper of life. Whether we’re full of questions or brimming with confident assurance, nothing is wasted. Nothing is lost. All may be redeemed in your love. You see, whether you are Thomas the Apostle, Thomas the Missionary to India or Thomas Who Doubts, you are beloved, redeemed, and called.
And so am I.
So is everyone with the reach of God’s saving embrace.
Thomas, thank you for the authenticity of your witness. What many of us have long regarded as a circumscribing label is actually a glimpse into expansiveness of God’s love and beloved city. Now, with Christmas just days away, we set our sights on the one whose wounds – the same wounds you demanded to touch – make us whole.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]