Today (July 3), the wider church celebrates Thomas, the one Christians often associate with the nickname “doubting Thomas.” And yet, I wonder if he is one of the most essential people for us to read and hear about in all of Scripture. For he provides the holy opening for the doubts, the questions, the wonders, even the spurts of flat-out disbelief and giving up on church, organized religion, faith, or whatever else. Thomas offers the holy invitation to be human, to be just…us.

It reminds me of when I served as a camp counselor at Lutheran Memorial Camp (now known as HopeWood Pines in Marengo, Ohio). Whenever we were leading weekly Confirmation Camps especially, we would always include a time later in their stay for what we called a fishbowl. They were encouraged to take their time in writing out any questions at all (as long as they were of the PG-rated material, of course) on pieces of scrap paper and put them in a random bowl or hat. They didn’t have to put their name to it, because some youth would be embarrassed to ask such things about the Bible, church, God, or life in general: as if they were supposed to have everything figured out or something. Or maybe they just weren’t supposed to be openly curious about such big picture matters of the universe. They were just supposed to go along with whatever was told them by a pastor or teacher or parent or camp counselor or whoever else.

It almost came off, at times, that they weren’t allowed to be…them: not always wanting to question authority, but just wanting to understand the precious why. “Why does the Bible say this about people who are like my friends now? Why does the church say this about another group of people who don’t seem to be so bad? Is there really no limits to God loving me?” And it’s not just the younger children of God who have such questions, but sometimes the “big kids” do too. And sometimes they’re too afraid to ask as well: as if we’re supposed to have it all figured out after Confirmation or after so many Bible studies or so many years being a part of worship. After all, sometimes the church doesn’t always come off as the most hospitable place for the visitor, the wanderer, and not just over how they live their day-to-day, wondering if it’s up to the churchy seemingly perfectionistic standard; but also to the doubts that they’re not so sure if God would appreciate knowing.

As much as Thomas’ image begins and ends for us with the whole desiring to put his fingers in the mark of the nails from the crucifixion, just for a more-than-understandable human reassurance to his life and the whole universe being altered (John 20:24-29), there’s also the brutal Thomas/human honesty in another instance: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5). It sets up Jesus to be the blessed reassurance of being with us on that way, no matter how rugged and not-so-straightforward it may be. Even if it is filled with doubts and questions and wanderings-about and even flat-out disbelief over God’s beyond-our-understanding boundless love and grace.

Yes, Thomas, good ‘ole doubting just-like-us Thomas, is one of the most essential people for us to read and hear about in all of Scripture, because he invites us to be…us. He gives us permission to be human. He helps us see that Christ insists on staying right beside him even when he questions the greatest miracle of all. So, on this day of lifting up a most precious child of God, may we all remember that that identity is true for us as well. And that nothing, absolutely nothing, can happen in this life to take that away from us. No matter how our way so goes in this life, this Lord of ours will always be Emmanuel: God with us…forever. Thanks be to God, indeed!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad