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The Courage to Ask the Awkward Questions.

Updated: May 12, 2023

Dealing with doubt is a fact of life------It is a fact of life for Christians and non- Christians alike, and it is just as much a fact today as it was in the first century. From out of that time, we are introduced to the ‘classic doubter’, and he is none other than an Apostle. He is Thomas the skeptic.

When the other disciples saw the Risen Christ, they believed. But for Thomas their words were not enough. " I see the mark of the nail in his hands and unless I put my finger in the place where the nails were, and my hand in his side, I will not believe it."

Doubting Thomas. These words form such a negative image in our culture. Thomas seems to get a bad rap and the result is people have thought being a 'doubter' is a bad thing. We reason, "Thomas must have been one of the least of the Apostles because of his doubting...because of his hesitancy to believe."

Should we ask the awkward Questions? Should we risk alienation for the sake of really knowing the Truth?

At the end of each century and millennia there appears religious and semi-religious groups that feel that the changing times are a sign that humanity is entering a new era.

Years ago, thirty-eight members of the ‘Heaven's Gate ‘religious cult in California drank Poison and subsequently killed themselves. They reasoned that in order to keep an appointment with an alien spaceship--­ which they believed was flying behind the tail of the Hale Bopp comet---it was necessary to leave their bodies and enter into a higher plane of existence and a new destiny. The world looked at this event in shock and wondered how these people could be so gullible. For that matter how could anybody believe or be part of such a group. The early Church was itself a cult and they all thought of themselves as one heart and soul... There was no private ownership as everything was held in common. Christians of the day were also attracted to martyrdom as a way to find swift passage to Heaven. The first letter of Peter was written to encourage and strengthen these martyrs.

So, we have to ask ourselves.... How did we bring ourselves out of the realm of cult? How are we different from the Heaven's Gate cult? What distinguishes a Christian from a cult member?

One very big difference is that Christianity is Broad in its outlook. We all believe in God and just exactly who Jesus Christ is, as well as the purpose of the Holy Spirit, but beyond that our opinions begin to diverge. This is sometimes seen as a weakness. Some will question, how can the Good News of Jesus Christ be spread when we can't even agree on just what the Good News even means? I believe that we should celebrate the Broadness of our Faith. It's the differences that keep us safe from the narrow distortions of truth that so many cults seem to offer. Varying insights helps keep our faith balanced and sane.

So perhaps there is more to the story of Thomas then meets the eye.

When Christ returned for the gathering in which Thomas was present, he did not criticize or humiliate Thomas for his doubts. Quite the opposite --- Christ affirmed Thomas in his doubting and helped him move beyond doubt, into faith. He understood the Apostles initial skepticism. Maybe he was saying to Thomas, 'Doubting is nothing to be ashamed of. Doubting is okay. Doubting is a part of life.'

The disciples accepted and included Thomas when he refused to believe their witness about the Risen Christ. The Church, the Community of Faith, if it lives as Christ lived, is inclusive and welcomes all-comers. Even those who are reluctant to toe the party line. The anti - cult words of Colossians 2:18 should be taken seriously. It says," Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions." This passage is telling us, imploring us, to ask the questions and seek the truth. It is as true today as it was for Thomas in 32 A.D.

Having doubts about things in life, including our Faith, is in and of itself nothing to be ashamed of, nor should. Our doubts be hidden. In our uncertainties, Thomas can be our model. He is the one who can give us the courage to face our doubts.

God empowers us by calling us to be a people who will stop to listen, to question, to learn and to grow. We can't grow if we don't question. We are called to face our doubts, honestly and openly. We need to have the courage and the good sense to deal with our new understanding of reality-----and tobe open to new questions that will arise. We need to recognize our own limitations and keep on the path of discovery. This is the journey of Faith in Christ.

Thomas had the courage to doubt. He wasn't ashamed of it, and he used his doubt to discover the true meaning of the Risen Christ in his life. He did this so he would not have to believe what he did not know. Thomas' Faith was unique to him. He showed that believing blindly does not make something right. What makes it right is by making it real to yourself and bringing it into your life. From that moment on, life is never the same.

It was in Fellowship with the community of believers that Thomas' Faith eventually strengthened. However, the great thing about Thomas was the incredible humility he possessed to change his mind in the face of standing alone and being isolated. It was this kind of humility that 1nade Thomas the founder of the Christian Church in India.

So never sweep your doubts under the rug or have others manipulate and pressure you into Belief. These people may mean well, but they prevent us from having the pains of having to grow up...from struggling through our Faith Journey and our own search for Truth. In other words, to have our Thomas experience. The people we need in our life the most are the ones who stand by us as we struggle. The ones who allow us a safe place to question and grow. Just as the disciples provided a safe place for Thomas.

This requires a great deal of Love. The kind of Love those Cult leaders refuse to offer. Cult leaders are not able to take the risk of allowing their followers to think for themselves. They demand absolute unquestioning obedience to their interpretation of Scriptures, even though they often take a small portion of Gospel and tum it into the whole package, overlooking Jesus' concern for Compassion, Justice and Healing.

So why was Thomas having so much difficulty believing?

Was it the fact that Jesus died, and Thomas' colleagues were saying to him that He appeared to them? Perhaps Thomas wanted verification that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus wasn't a cruel hoax. Perhaps he wanted to make sure that the Risen and Glorified Christ was also the suffering and dying Jesus.

And maybe we need that too. Show us the marks of Jesus. We need to know that you're the One who knows our pain, who suffers and die the way we suffer and die. We need to know that the resurrection isn't a game but is truly The Way through death and darkness. No, never sweep our doubts under the rug. Examine them and help it guide us into a deeper, stronger and lasting Faith. As growth can come through pain, so also faith can come through pain.

Faith is never based on a totally blind decision. It is something reached by a process that moves us beyond an emotional connection. In the search for understanding our faith we are often accompanied by doubt.

Like Thomas, we are all called to move through times of doubt to moments of decision. And if we have been sincere in our doubts, our decisions of Faith, that come after, will be more honest and certain. The more committed we will be as we move along our Journey of Faith.

Even John tells us about this episode, so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing, being presented with the evidence, we have life in His name. The Church would only survive if it could convince future generations -that the Crucified Jesus was and is the Living and Risen Christ.

Is it fair to place such demands on God?

Maybe not, but most of us make them every day. And Jesus responds to Thomas as He responds to us. He comes to us in our suffering and pain, because he's been there. He knows what it feels like because He has the Scars to prove it.

People outside of the Church make this sort of demand on not only Jesus, but also us, his Church. "Show us the Marks!" they say. They challenge us to demonstrate that Christianity isn't just a fairy tale religion of sweetness with light and happy endings. However, we know that life doesn't work that way. Being a Christian isn't so much about being nice, it's about Love and Justice... and it's about dying and rising again.

So, thank God for Thomas, the man who had the courage to ask the awkward questions. Thank God for this Traditional Anglican Church of ours, a Church that has the courage to allow its members to think and struggle and discover themselves in Christ.

May each of us as Christians have the courage to face our doubts. With doubt there is the possibility of belief. May we in our own time arrive at the decision that Jesus is indeed the Risen Lord, and that this Truth may be actively affirmed in our lives, empowering us into the Easter people as God intended us to be.

For Morning Prayer on the Second Sunday after Easter Published on April 30th,2000 {Revised on August 21st, 2021}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2021

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