why i love st. thomas (the apostle)

Those of us who grew up with the felt-board-derived theology of Sunday School likely learned a singular predicate when it comes to St. Thomas: doubting. We were warned, extensively, to not be a "Doubting Thomas," as if between that and the Catholics the dogmatic underwriting of our Faith suffered the greatest threat. Many of us only heard the story of Thomas from John 20, as if his role as a disciple was destined from the beginning to be a mechanism of instruction and warning against uncertainty. As I look back on those formative years, it occurs to me that we never even bothered to read much of the passage concerning Thomas's doubt. We glossed over rather quickly the fact that he doubts the resurrection of Jesus -- easily enough identified as a, "NO!" -- but we didn't talk much about why he doubts or what could have motivated it.

But that's a bit ahead of where I want to go.

Thomas doesn't only appear in John 20, he appears a handful of places in Scripture. One of the most moving places, for me, is in John 11. Up to this point we have been told that the Pharisees were planning to kill Jesus so a portion of His ministry has been spent away from their reach. When He learns of Lazarus's illness and then prophecies His death, He makes to journey to Bethany to see His dead friend. (And, of course, to raise him from the dead.)

Aware of the danger facing them, it is Thomas who speaks up. The Scripture says, "Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, so that we may die with him.'" (John 11:16 NASB)

This is not the Thomas we often spoke of in Sunday School. Here he sounds like a Peter, a John, one of the disciples we're supposed to want to be like. He does not seem to be the doubter here, but the certain man ready to face death for the sake of his Lord. How then, ten chapters later, has his image so changed? How does Thomas become only the "doubter" and this part of his story no longer matter?

Fast forward, now to the scene of Thomas's doubt. Jesus has just appeared to His disciples, resurrected, with a notable exception: "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'" (John 20:24-25, NASB)

It is from this passage we call Thomas the doubter, for after it Jesus appears and says to him that those who believe and have not seen are quite blessed. (v. 29) But have we perhaps given the saint a bit of a bum rap?

True, Thomas should have, in the theoretically perfect world of Faith, simply believed the disciples as we all should now; but, I'd like to extend a bit more grace to him.

I am struck by his sheer humanness and a rather, perhaps trite, reality: he didn't get to see Jesus. All the rest of the disciples got to see Him, but Thomas didn't. The gravity of that shouldn't be passed over. Imagine being the one who didn't get to see Him. He watched Him die, he watched Him be buried, and then he doesn't get to see Him alive.

I don't know that I wouldn't have doubted myself.

I want to take Thomas and wrap him in a blanket, to let him cry as I'm sure he wanted to when faced with the possibility that Jesus was alive and well but He wasn't showing Himself to him. My heart breaks for him. I want to cry with him. I think of all the people who don't get to see, who aren't able to accept without some kind of evidence. And maybe, what I need to recall more than I ignore, is that they have their reasons to doubt.

Doubt isn't ok. It's not something to be celebrated. But it's also not something to be condemned through anger and shutting people down. We (read that as I) need to listen closely. We need to hear the pain. We need to understand the wounds on the heart.

Because Thomas doubted, yes, but he was not the sum of his doubt. He was the sum of who he was: willing to die with the Saviour and then broken when the Saviour lived and he didn't get to see.

I imagine the thought was simple: "Why didn't I get to see?" It's not an unfair thought. The task at hand now is to be the sight to those who doubt, to be Him, in my meager and pathetic way, to those who don't simply believe or who have not been blessed to see.

It's complicated, it's emotional, but I know I love Thomas and I want to learn how to love the Thomases of the world better.

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Addendum: To those who came to this post before I added the clarification, yes, I am speaking of St. Thomas the Apostle. St. Thomas Aquinas and I still have a bit to go . . . But I'm trying.

elocution

Hey, remember when I used to blog?

Obviously, it's been awhile since I last posted. My previous drive-by-blog-drop-in gave you a taste of the craziness that has become my life as of late, but I can't fairly claim that as an excuse for silence since I know some pretty epic people who manage to balance life and blog. And it's time, quite simply. It's time to write again.

During my long hiatus, I actually took some time to read for pleasure. (Side-note: I discovered during this experience that I need to read for pleasure. What I mean by that is that it is not a book I meet to discuss with anyone, it is simply a book for me to read, digest, and then reflect on in silence.)

One of the books I devoured was a beautiful work called Not God's Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith by Holly Ordway, which is a short memoir chronically a journey from non-militant Atheism to devout Christian faith.

I cannot give this book higher praise. I read it in three chunks and by the last two I was weeping over the remarkable beauty that permeated Ordway's words and the miraculous simplicity of Providence that worked in her life to bring her, after some time, to the Saviour.

One particular passage has been the cause for significant reflection for me. Holly has been slowly progressing in faith, starting from a standpoint of believing that there is a First Cause and that the Cause is God, slowly moving into the possibility that God is personal. Her friend and spiritual guide suggests two routes for her to take with regard to determining God's possible personable nature: she could pray or she could attempt to live in the Christian ethical framework, which would mean that if there were a difference, she would have to concede that her personal ethical structure had an origin beyond her, birthed forth by God. Holly reacted violently to the thought of prayer and, accordingly, agreed to try the latter option. Walking home the day before she would begin the experiment, however, Holly had a sudden and radical experience of Other. There was no voice, no particular miraculous sight, just a deep, utter recognition. And it was enough. She was far from converted, but she was overcome with the beginning of encountering Truth.

Holly wrote an email to her friend, which she reproduces in the book, in which she describes this experience and concludes that her everything is bursting forth with this certainty of conviction and yet she cannot cause her mind, her rational understanding, to accept it. Her friend's response is perhaps the most beautiful--and I mean this sincerely, I would place it above portions of Dante's Paradiso--text I have ever had the honor to read. This is his response in full:

"I wanted to say something encouraging to you. Perhaps a quote. . . .  I looked all over, in the Bible, in Lewis, but still feel concerned with saying something wrong (too strong, too weak) when you seem to be doing such a fine job of doing it right, of asking the right questions and finding the right answers, either from without or from within. It is odd, I kind of know how to speak with a people from a different kingdom than my own, I also know how to talk to the people in the kingdom I belong to, I don't know quite what to say to you who are wandering in the countryside of the kingdom. It seems I should just let you enjoy the scenery. It speaks better than I could. I do hope you decide to stay." (Ordway, 99)

I feel as if I need to hit "Enter" a whole lot to give space between what I can write and that gripping expression of Light. I have yet to write or read or recite that passage without tears in my eyes. It simply overwhelms me and consumes my thoughts with a simple desire to not bring people to God by my own power or design but simply to live in such a way that people touring the countryside can see the New Kingdom in glimpses of what I do unto the Lord.

And there's where a lot of my reflection has come in. I've been thinking about these two Kingdoms and their uniqueness; I've been thinking about their languages.

I think the problem that we're grappling with, indeed have been grappling with for a long time, is the languages. Too many people coming from the Old Kingdom enter the New and never really try to learn the New language. They learn the airport 300, the minimum words needed to just get by in a country without ever becoming fluent or even native. They develop a kind of bastardized hybrid of the New language that is predominated by the Old. It's enough to sound like they are actually masters and teachers, as if they delight in the New Kingdom, but their heart and their desire remains in the Old. They cannot appreciate the poetry and song of the New; they cannot look into the depths of the literature or archaic stories and draw from it the beauty that only true connoisseurs of the language can discover.

There's the sting: too many Old language speakers trying to pass themselves off as New language speakers.

This isn't a post about the solution; this isn't a post about how to "spot" an Old language speaker. This is a simple, very simple, reflection on a beautiful passage that left me asking a lot of questions and thinking about a lot of things.

It's a slow start, but it was time to write again.