Monday, April 24, 2017
St. Thomas and The March for Science
I couldn't help myself this past Sunday.
Our deacon finished reading the assigned Gospel lesson from John, which is always the story of the apostle, Thomas, who insists that he must be able to see Jesus for himself and stick his fingers in his wounds in order to believe that Christ really had risen from the dead. I leaned over to one of my fellow choir members, a scientist, and whispered:
"Thomas just wanted peer review."
Joking aside, I think there's definitely an element of truth to that idea. All the other apostles had seen the resurrected Jesus, and were telling him all about it. But Thomas had his doubts about the veracity of their statements and wanted proof.
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20:24-29)
Whenever I hear people talk about this story, it's always presented as "doubting Thomas," as if there is something wrong with him. If Thomas had had more faith, then he wouldn't have needed this proof. And maybe it was just the juxtaposition of hearing this Gospel story after spending a few hours of my Saturday marching in Tallahassee along side scientists and science lovers that I gained a new insight into one of my favorite apostles. I've liked Thomas because of this moment of being so completely real to the way we are as humans and having our doubts about something we haven't seen for ourselves.
And, if we think about Thomas as if he really were a scientist requiring an extra study to prove this "fact" that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, then his doubt can be seen as a legitimate and necessary inquiry. Certainly, Jesus didn't seem to have a problem appearing again for Thomas' benefit, and even challenged him to follow through on the experiment he wanted to do of sticking his fingers and hand into his wounds. Thomas doesn't; the appearance alone was enough for him to say, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus gives him the nudge: "Oh, so now because you have seen me you believe. Blessed are the ones who haven't been so lucky and yet have come to believe."
In his sermon at our church (which happens to be St. Thomas Episcopal Church), Bishop Scott Benhase drew the distinction between having "belief" and having "faith." "Belief" is about having certainty and proof of a truth beyond a shadow of a doubt. "Faith" requires a trust in the movement of God's grace in our lives. Thinking of this moment again with Thomas...his need to experience the risen Jesus first-hand, and not just hear the stories from his fellow apostles...speaks to Thomas wanting a verifiable truth that would fit with his belief system. And you can imagine, he must have believed what made the most sense to him and to any rational person: there is no way Jesus defeated death because nobody does that. Thomas must have thought the rest of the apostles were high.
But the other part of faith, and definitely the way of Jesus, is to not fit into our rational idea of what constitutes "the way things are" because faith, and most definitely Jesus, doesn't adhere to those kinds of rules. As the prophet Isaiah said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." The whole mission of Jesus is to turn our belief, that commitment to concrete answers and certitude, on its head and get us to give up on the mission to find "the truth" in favor of trusting in God's unending revelation of truth through faith. That's the work of grace.
This is where the sciences, and the scientists, come in. There's been such bad blood between those who make it their life's work to search out truth, in the universe or the earth or the seas or the mind, and those who are content to live into a hope that trusts God will unveil all things in God's time. I'm sorry there's been such a binary split between science and religion that people tend to pick sides and set up straw men that they can knock down to prove that they're right and the other side is wrong. Personally, I think God loves scientists as much as any other group and delights in their Thomas-like inquiry and demand for proof, and seeking out signs that point to a "truth." Scientists are the ones cracking the codes of the mysterious for us. They are helping us to find out more about our world, our ecosystems, and how to be the good stewards of this planet we were commanded to be. And, for me, rather than their discoveries proving there is no need for a belief in God, I think they're just taking us deeper into the mystery. It's like one of those Russian dolls where you open one, there's another one. And another one. And another one. It's endless! Once a hypothesis is tested, and tested again, and the "truth" remains elusive, the best scientists are the ones who eventually say, "We just don't know."
Here enters faith and the hope and trust that it's OK not to have all the answers. And this is the place where I believe God meets us to say, "You don't know it all. But keep going. Keep probing. Keep seeking. I'm here. And I delight in your curiosity!" Science is cool. So is God.