I have been thinking a lot about Thomas this week. I think Thomas is a model for us as we seek to move from a received faith to a faith that is truly our own.
As children we attend church often because our parents make us attend or because it is simply the thing to do and we benefit. We learn much, encounter God and are exposed to faith. But at some point in the spiritual journey each person comes to a sense of owning their own faith. For some owning faith may come through choosing a church or worship pattern that differs from that of their parents but for others owning faith is a deep, questioning spiritual journey involving facing one's own doubts.
Some of us do this around the time we go off to college. Others, like myself, take this journey in adulthood. And it often happens more than once, especially if one has been deeply disillusioned by faith and by church systems. One begins to question, seek, express doubts, quest. Such journeyers often find that such spiritual questing is unsafe in communities of received knowers. If one's faith commuity has never been on such a journey, then responses to questing will be filled with anxiety and fear. Spiritual explorers will then be condemned and excluded, discounted. Often in faith communities acceptance comes through adhearing to the beliefs that everyone else holds... that works if those beliefs have been owned. However, there is often pressure to conform so the system can be validated... not so that real faith seekers can own their faith.
One should then seek a safer place to work through the journey of faith.
The story of Thomas, a person who faced his doubts, brings me significant assurance that doubting is possibily a very spiritual act in the process of owning one's faith. For without truly owning faith, one will certainly not die for it as many of the apostles did. I think that Jesus reveals to us in the story of Thomas that doubt leads us to quest and to seek and to discover who God is and who Jesus is... Jesus is a safe person to be with and explore with until faith is truly owned. Jesus offers us a welcome place that honors and respects the process of personal knowing and respects us as we journey. There is freedom in that. I feel respected.
The Bible says, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free... and that Jesus is the truth... and that the Spirit of God will lead us to the truth. That tells me that truth is more than a set of doctrinal ideas. Truth is a person and the faith journey takes place in a relationship of exicting freedom and true discovery.
At some point in the journey, we own our beliefs and are able share sincerely with others. I wonder sometimes if our evangelistic efforts are based on control and coercion because we have only had the experience of being a received knower. Perhaps if we took the challenge to face our doubts, journey, then we might be more respectful of others in the process of exploring faith. Perhaps we would lose some of our anxiety, listen better, care more because we have empathy and respect for persons grappling with big and important questions.
Then our efforts would be less anxious and respect the humanity of those on the journey with us.