Let’s ask the hard questions

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Christ and the Doubting Thomas, by Luca Signorelli, at the Basilica della Santa Casa. Photo: Web Gallery of Art/Wikimedia Commons

The story of Thomas, asking to see the Risen Christ for himself, always makes me think of the axiom that you shouldn’t hold back from asking a question because, if you need it answered, chances are that someone else does, too. Thomas might have been the only one to ask to touch the wounds—but surely he wasn’t the only one who needed some tangible evidence. I suspect the other disciples were secretly rather relieved that Thomas was honest enough to share his doubts and bold enough to ask for what they wanted but couldn’t quite find the words for.

I think the church is called to be Thomas for the world—willing to be honest about our doubts and ask the hard questions and test the claims made on God’s behalf while letting everyone else watch what comes of it. This is a new, but critical, role for the church.

At one time, not so long ago, our world was ordered by the church. The church provided people with the answers to the big questions, with the patterns necessary for living a good life, with the community in which to function.

Some people rather miss that time and some people are glad it’s in the past. But it doesn’t really matter much how we feel about it because it is well and truly over. Gone are the days when the church had a monopoly on answers, and acting as if we are still entitled to that privilege is not only ineffective, it is counter to the gospel.

The gospel calls us to bear witness to our experiences of God in Christ—and we can’t do that if we pretend we have all the answers, neatly bound in some sort of rule book. Our experiences of God are not nearly so tidy as that.

People want to talk about the meaning of life, the problem of suffering, the nature of humanity, the possibility of redemption, the hope of salvation, the reality of spirituality and the experience of the divine. People are hungry for these conversations and the church—some churches, at least—is one of the very few places where those conversations happen.

But, tragically, the church has developed a (not unfounded) reputation for being a place where such questions are answered but not asked. Many people assume their doubts would not be welcome, their questions not allowed. Church is for people who are sure, people who can say all the words and know what they mean and that they are true. People who, at worst, are willing to mindlessly tow the party line or who, at best, are always perfectly in touch with God and never have any doubts about any of it.

For everyone’s sake—ours, theirs and the gospel’s—we need to change that reputation.

A living faith, a faith worth sharing, is one that actively engages doubt. Faith is more than facts or opinions. Faith is alive, responsive to our state of being and the world around us   Faith engages our doubt and our questions because faith is not about knowing facts or holding opinions, but about life.

And people are hungry for life.

So the world needs us to be Thomas, honest about our doubts and bold in our questions. We need to have the important conversations out loud where other people can overhear us—or even better, where other people can join in. After all, they just might have the question we’ve been waiting for someone else to ask.

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Rhonda Waters
The Rev. Rhonda Waters is incumbent of the Church of the Ascension, diocese of Ottawa.

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