St. Thomas has received a bad rap over the past two thousand years, likely because his honesty hits a little too close to home. The apostolic doubter dared say what he was thinking, and church history has been uncomfortable with him ever since. I appreciate Didymus much more these days, and not just because tradition says he went on to spread the gospel throughout India, dying in the process. I’ve become wary of those who claim to have cornered the market as it comes to knowing God and who market their trademark spirituality accordingly. I am uncomfortable when someone speaks with cocksuredness about what Scripture calls mystery, and when anyone would pigeon hole my faith narrative into their own.
The moment I am able to fully explain God, he ceases to be such. This explains my affinity for those who write in shadows of divine mystery and allow room for trial and error, as well as honest exploration. I received a letter recently from a friend writing in response to my request for constructive criticism on my writing, and his comments stopped me in my tracks: “One of my criticisms of virtually every sermonizer I have ever heard is their unwillingness and/or inability to sensibly ponder the basic questions/mysteries of life, death and the hereafter and their clear inadequacies to use Scripture, denominational dogma and ministerial learning to deal honestly with those questions/mysteries…. The intellectual dishonesty of ministers is, at times, breathtaking.” His final statement is the one that stuns–“intellectual dishonesty of ministers.”
Call it eloquent dissatisfaction if you like, the point of Thomas’ doubting was that he was seeking after the real Jesus and would accept no imitations. If there’s anything at all I want to embrace in religion, it is intellectual and spiritual honesty. I appreciate one biographer’s description of Frederick Buechner’s conversion in these terms: “It was the culmination of a secret seeking in his life and the embarkation upon a further phase of his journey, now shaped by a Christian faith that had about it a delicate, indelible ambiguity.” I love that phrase, “indelible ambiguity.” I want it to be true of my own journey, and unapologetically seek space to ponder honest questions that fuse faith with “gratitude for having received a great gift” (Marjorie McCoy). Convinced that Christ is the answer, I am free to spend a lifetime learning from the questions that matter most.
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. (John 20:24-28, KJV)