A parishioner once took me aside and asked, “I just don’t believe in all of this stuff. I look around at all the people here and wonder, ‘does everyone else believe this?’ and I’m amazed. Am I the only person who thinks like this?”
Of course, he isn’t. Plenty of people in the pews have their own doubts and questions. They cross their fingers at the appropriate time of the Nicene creed; some sing because they can’t bear to say it. We compartmentalize, dividing our heads from our hearts. An Episcopalian who hasn’t questioned the church, God and organized religion wasn’t raised in the tradition very well.
The parishioner had good reasons to be skeptical. He’d had a hard life and, like lots of faithful people, struggled with the basic question of suffering and God’s goodness.
The apostle Thomas had doubts. He hadn’t been there the day before when he’d seen what the others had seen. He may have thought most of his friends were a bit dim and too credulous. Why should he take them at their word? They’ve said they’ve seen a body! That’s ridiculous.
I imagine that Thomas as a due diligence officer, a regulator, or an auditor. He knew that there are people who take short cuts, eager to make a quick buck, the swindlers who take advantage of our gullibility and propensity to see what we want. He’s the guy who wants to know how a magician did the trick, and demands that it be done twice so he can figure it out.
So then Jesus reappears to the disciples. He breaks bread and offers peace. He shows the wounds. But Thomas still isn’t operating on faith at this time: no – the body was right there. Asking for faith is easy when you’ve got evidence.
But perhaps, seeing the body was the secondary part of the faith. The real leap of faith was to accept the offer of forgiveness. Forgiveness for betraying Christ; forgiveness to the persecutors for their persecution; the forgiveness that breaks a cycle of violence. The momentary reconciliation that offers the possibility of more life.
This forgiveness means we assume the best in others; we offer them breathings space, charity and discretion; breathing space offers freedom; and freedom unlocks our own potential. It may be a mistaken, foolish, and risky act, to have faith in another person.
Of course, we need not ask this of our political leaders, of our inspectors, of those who have to make snap judgments in a broken world. They need to be right more than wrong. They can’t afford these moments of grace. They have to calculate the costs.
But perhaps faith is another way of saying, we’re allowed to be wrong in who and what we trust. Though we may be battered, bruised and hurt by the vicissitudes of chance, the power says that with this faith we still stand up again, although that same love may put our familiar lives at risk.