A Journey of (Un)Belief
I remember being eight years old -- it was wild to be eight years old and think back on all the things you knew and didn't know -- well I was eight years old and somewhere somebody had told me about evolution, and I remember sitting on the wooden staircase of our home in East Tennessee and looking up at my mom and saying "if we used to be monkeys, then is the bible wrong?" Checkmate, Christianity.
It's a great question for an eight year old to ask and not one that many of us maybe feel very equipped to answer. Well Ethan, multiple things can be true. Well Ethan, let's ask the Fr. Don next time we see him. Well Ethan, that's just what it means to believe. So much we frame the Christian life as a journey of belief but the other side of that coin makes the Christian life a journey of unbelief. Different parts of scripture, of theology, of the ethic of this Christian community coming into focus and falling out of view, seeming at times more plausible or less, more reasonable or less, struggling with ideas now that we took for granted years ago and taking for granted now things that used to seem impossible. As much as the Christian life is a journey of belief, it is also a journey of unbelief.
To be a Christian is to be asked to believe some wild stuff -- to believe that we are all made in the image of God, to believe that God would part a sea to liberate a people, to believe that God would choose to be born into the world as a person, that that God would perform miracles among us and we would still nail him to a cross, to believe that death would not be enough to snuff out God, nor death be enough to snuff out us. It is hard to believe these things, but we have this way of acting like Christianity begins on the other side of belief -- once we can get on board with this creed, these sacraments, then roll title credits. One of the gifts of a church like ours -- of the Episcopal Church -- is that we see the life of faith alive and well in belief and in unbelief and in the tension pulled taught between them. To be a Christian is not only to be found, but to be seeking, not only to be sated, but to be longing, not only to be sure but to be caught up in wondering about what all of this means, and what we do with it.
In this morning's Gospel reading, we see the first resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples and it feels very cut and dried -- oh hey Jesus, awesome awesome, oh cmon Thomas GET with the PROGRam, but I imagine this Gospel reading with a little bit more affect in my head --
Hey guys~ / AH. JEsus, what are you doing here?? God, you were really telling the truth / no yeah yeah, it's me, here see my hands / wow, um, great?????????
Hey Thomas, we saw Jesus / you guys STOP that's not funnyyyy,, that is not a funny joke, I really miss him. how do you expect me to process this if you keep this wound fresh
*cue Jesus* hey Thomas~ / AH. God, it really is you
We have these stories of all kinds of people in the Gospels doubting the veracity of Jesus' claims about his own God-ness, and He gifts us with signs of his divinity -- miracles and healings and the marks on his hands and his side so that even his apostles would believe and still even we watch the apostles doubt and deny and wonder and struggle. Even among the best of us, it happens. And I suppose I just want to wonder what it would feel like to think of Doubt as a tool in our Christian tool belts rather than a liability.
The world that we live in -- and the world that Jesus lived in -- has all kinds of people with competing claims for what is true, what is good, what is holy, what is moral. It was the terrain upon which Jesus carried out his ministry and the field within which we carry out ours, and our experience of being Christians wrestling with the tenets of our faith might well include our experience of being citizens, Americans, neighbors wrestling with the minefields of economics, politics, and society. Part of what Jesus invites us into is Doubt at the ways of the world. Everyone is always talking about Survival of the Fittest and how only the strong survive. Jesus asks: well, What if the meek will inherit the earth? We can watch the rich and the powerful dictate the terms of our society, buy their seat at the table, have buildings named after their extravagant gifts, Jesus asks: well, what if the widow's mite is a gift greater than any other? We live in a society that values strength and logic and cutthroat rationalism, well, Jesus asks: what if to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to become like a child?
Perhaps it is the same mind that might tend to doubt the ways of God that could also learn how to more deeply doubt the ways of the world.
Perhaps it is the same mind that would wonder if Jesus is really God that might start to wonder why we treat our own favored politicians as inscrutable and as infallible as God.
If one were to doubt the feasibility of Jesus's instruction to sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor, perhaps it could be in the same mind to wonder if our current economic arrangement of rampant greed and rampant poverty is really all that viable either.
At the same time as you wonder about the truth of these things we profess here in church, wonder about the truth of the things that are professed to us out in the world. What Jesus offers us is an alternative to the ways of the world, an alternative to the ways of Pharoah, the ways of Caesar, and instead of wondering about the truths of God on their own, we might try holding them in comparison to their alternatives and asking if not, "is this true?", "is this truer than the alternative?" It might be that if we do the work of comparing the ways of God to the ways of the world, it might be that if we compare human authority to God's authority, God might come out in the end with a few more signs than we are capable of.