Tomorrow’s Easter. And this year, like every year, I find myself completely overwhelmed by the single most spectacular miracle the world has ever seen:
The ability of millions to suspend disbelief.
Let’s face it. The Christian faith has its fair share of fish stories. There’s that great one about the biggest catch ever (Luke 5:1-11). And the one about feeding-the-several-thousand was so outstanding, all four Gospel writers relayed it (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-15) and Matthew even gave it an encore (Matthew 15:29-39). My personal fave is Jonah.
But nothing trumps the story of Christ’s resurrection. And therein lies the rub. The resurrection is pretty much the one thing you need to believe (according to some) to qualify, theologically at least, as a Christian. But, honestly, folks. God raises a carpenter from the dead and all humanity’s sins are forgiven? Gimme a break. At best, it’s a fairy tale along the lines of frickin’ Snow White. At worst, it’s delusional.
I’m going to let all of you in on a dirty little secret of the Christian faith. A lot of us struggle with the resurrection. Any Christian who says he or she has never entertained any doubts whatsoever about the resurrection is:
a) lying, or
b) confused about what the word “doubt” means, or
c) not giving the resurrection adequate consideration.
Fortunately, skeptical Christians have a patron saint – Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples whom history has rather ungraciously dubbed “Doubting.” Here’s what happened with him when the reports of the resurrection starting pouring in:
Now Thomas, who was also called the Twin (even though we have no idea if that’s because he was a twin or he’d played for the Twins or just looked like somebody famous), was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
And Thomas said, “Is that supposed to be funny? You jerks are sick.”
And the disciples said, “No, seriously man, we’ve totally seen him.”
And Thomas said, “Okay, I’m not stupid and you guys are full of s**t.”
And the disciples said, “Geez, Thomas, can’t you generate a little faith here?”
And Thomas said to them, “Look. Unless he’s standing right in front of me and I see the nail marks in his hands and stick my finger in the nail holes and stick my hand in his stab wound, I will not believe. And you guys are a bunch of pathetic dumbasses, by the way.”
I suspect that Thomas was a practical man in matters of faith. So, the miracles of Jesus were pretty impressive and Thomas could probably get on board with those. But now Jesus is dead. Dead and buried. Game over. Get over it and figure out how to get on with life.
But that’s not the end of Thomas’s story:
A week later the disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God.”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So what about those of us who haven’t seen and struggle to believe? Thomas’s story tells us a couple of things about how the divine meets our doubt right at eye level.
We’re told that Thomas was the last disciple to encounter the risen Christ, so he spent a fair amount of time “in the dark,” surrounded by people who had an insight he lacked. In the absence of certainty, Thomas promptly made a deal – I’ll believe it when I see it. He announced the deal publically, for the benefit of those poor misled souls obviously suffering from vivid hallucinations. And, I suspect, he also brokered the deal with God.
I dare you to perform one more miracle. Go ahead, cut through my grief and doubt and alienation. Let’s see you just try and make me believe the unbelievable.
Those of us who “have not seen” are in the dark, too. And that darkness is darker than it needs to be, I think, because so few of us are willing to publically declare, like Thomas did – I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. Making that acknowledgment potentially estranges us from other Christians. It also calls into question everything about our discipleship. If I can’t believe this with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul and all my strength, maybe I don’t have what it takes to walk this path. Maybe none of it is real. Maybe God isn’t real.
Whereupon we feel estranged from God.
Take comfort, mere mortals. Jesus didn’t say we have to believe everything (returning to the fishing analogy) hook, line, and sinker. He did say we have to love one another. Furthermore, doubt does not disqualify us from participating in the mystery and miracle of Easter. Doubts about incredible things are to be expected of creatures with oversized frontal lobes. And regardless of how unsettling our doubts can be, they cannot diminish the power of our desire to believe. That desire is an expression of passion, of longing, of love. And our highly relational God responds very well to those things.
Much of my personal understanding of my own faith has incubated in conversations with friends of other faiths and no faith. In a recent email exchange with an atheist friend, I realized that deeply experienced faith is not rooted in the ability to believe. It’s rooted in the willingness to suspend disbelief. That angle might make Jesus’ last words to Thomas a bit more accessible:
Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have suspended disbelief.
So, tomorrow morning, I’ll join the faithful around the world to celebrate the resurrection. The real miracle, for me, is that on Easter it’s easier to believe.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2012