I like asking questions.
I’m not sure if this is a personality trait, but for some reason to simply accept something “as is” has never sat well with me. When someone tells me of a new restaurant they’ve tried or perhaps a new movie they just watched I tend to raise an eyebrow of suspicion. Not because I don’t believe them, but I naturally want to experience what they have said or claimed for myself. I take this same approach with my faith and ministry.
Moving forward; let me be clear that I’m not looking for absolute truths in my faith nor do I need stifling apologetics for self security. What I do look for is the ability to question. When working with students I have taken the approach of asking questions instead of giving answers. I tend to teach from a platform built around discussion rather than lecture. During our time together I try and encourage students by asking their opinions.
Why do we believe this?
What do you think about this?
Have you ever thought of hearing the story this way?
Is this a black and white issue, or are there some gray areas?
Not only do I think this helps students build critical thinking skills, but I believe asking questions and doubting is described as a major part of spiritual growth in Scripture.
Enter the Apostle Thomas.
I think for years, millenniums even, that Thomas has received a bad rap. He has been assigned the moniker of Doubting Thomas when referenced. However, I believe Thomas and the word “doubt” are due redemption. Anglican Priest and poet Malcolm Guite offers us a different narrative when thinking about Thomas,
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Guite here writes of the telling encounter between Christ and Thomas found in the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel.
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!’
(John 20:26-28 NRSV)
So much is happening here in these few sentences. Christ in the proceeding verses had appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, but Thomas was not there. When told of the encounter Thomas, instead of taking his friends words at face value, dared to make the claim that in order for him to believe he’d need to see what they saw for himself. If I were discussing this with my students, I might point out the connection this would have in addressing Gnosticism. Thomas being able to physically touch Jesus makes the claim of Christ’s humanity, not simply a spiritual manifestation, to us now as well as to those in the early Church. I might also bring up the notion that Christ doesn’t cast Thomas away. He doesn’t say, “Well, because you didn’t believe your buddies you’re outta here!” Instead he meets Thomas in his doubt and answers his question, “Touch the wounds and see the truth for yourself!” For those like me who are natural questioners, I see this passage offering reassurance. For doubt was needed before belief.
Dealing with students who are in the process of learning to take on a faith tradition being passed onto them is the important aspect of making it in some way their own. How do they do that? By being offered a space in which they are able to doubt and question. For those of us who work with students, either as leaders or volunteers, the example of Jesus is what we should aim for here. Instead of telling students they need to believe before they can ask questions, we should invite them to ask questions to help them believe.
When we preach, share, or teach using incontestable statements we cultivate an understanding of faith which is rigid at best. However when we teach using the redeemable qualities of doubt we demonstrate to students a faith that should not remain still and stagnant, but instead should be viewed as something that is growing and forever changing for the better.