Abiding in Exile - A Doubting-Thomas Sympathizer 02/18/2021

Abiding in Exile - A Doubting-Thomas Sympathizer 02/18/2021

February 16, 2021

By: Priscilla Joel

I can often be a bit of a skeptic at times. I like things I can see, touch, and prove—be it an equation from propulsions class or the weather. I have a habit of wearing many layers of warm clothing well into the spring season, even when the weather forecast claims that the temperature is, in fact, warmer. But the prediction isn’t good enough. I need to see the ice turning to slush with my own eyes and I need to feel the sun with my own skin. For a while now, my skepticism has branched into the details of this pandemic. Is this COVID-thing ever really going away? Am I ever going to get my vaccine? Will I actually be able to safely walk around without a mask? Am I ever going to see my friends again? My list of questions and uncertainties seems to grow longer each day. 

For these reasons, I have always been a huge “Doubting-Thomas” sympathizer. We all have likely heard the infamous quote from the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus had indeed resurrected and gone to heaven. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe—" [John 20:25, NIV]. I think Thomas reacted similarly to how I would have in such a situation, and perhaps you would have done the same as well.

But what intrigues me most about this story is not Thomas’ reaction to seeing Jesus again. Rather, it’s what Jesus does next. He actually turns to show Thomas the nail marks and spear wounds on his body. He allows Thomas to satisfy his suspicions and disbelief. Instead of rebuking him for not having enough faith, Jesus offers him the opportunity to be shown proof of what has happened. What I love most about Jesus’ way of life is how fully human he was. I think Jesus understood what it is like to have doubts and be skeptical. Which is why I’d like to think that he spent much of his ministry healing the sick and tending to the outcasts of society. 

Jesus performed several miracles and told many parables about how we should seek to live our lives. He wasn’t expecting everyone to have “blind faith.” He was clear that there was and is a place for everyone in God’s heart. Jesus also had lots to tell the people about how to be a loving neighbor to those around us. But he didn’t expect that to happen magically. He led by example. 

Jesus did not have to prove anything to Thomas. In fact, after all the time they spent together, I would have thought he would have been angry and regretful that his beloved friend did not trust in him after so long. But he wasn’t. He was patient and understanding and full of grace, as always.

So as we all struggle with this debilitating pandemic and period of self-isolation, how do we have faith that we are headed towards something that is, in fact, better? As optimistic as I try to stay during this several-month-long crisis, I find myself, like Thomas, looking for proof. Proof that things will be okay. Proof that interacting with others will at some point be safe. Proof that I can smile at people and see them smile back.

And as I have been reflecting on life these past several months, I realized something. Jesus has offered me proof. Perhaps not in the same ways that Thomas received proof, but still substantial markers and signs of hope, nonetheless.

While ministry during this pandemic has been very difficult, I am still constantly encouraged how many ways we, as God’s church, have found to continue to stay in touch and worship with each other from our own homes. It gives me hope that I belong to a community that does not simply give up when times get tough. Instead, we get tougher. We use our creative, innovative ideas to be the church and the community that God is calling us to be as we take steps into the future.

In all honesty, I think Jesus wanted Thomas to ask for proof. These questions, doubts, and fears we all have—they don’t have to be a hindrance to our faith. They can instead be a stimulant, a catalyst of sorts, to being the people that God is calling us to be. Jesus is not afraid of our questions. I don’t think he is telling us to stop asking them and stop having doubts. He wants us to go to him with those thoughts and to spend time discerning the ways in which God’s presence is at work in our lives, even through the pandemic.