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Believing Without Understanding

Thomas After Easter: FOMO

There is a syndrome among our young people (I’ve actually suffered from it for ages) called FOMO. “Fear of Missing Out” is the concern that one might be missing out on all the action, and it has been exacerbated by the prevalence of social media. People are constantly posting pictures of their good times and memorable moments, leaving those who are not present with a tinge of jealously or sadness that they were not a part of the event.

My daughter had a slight tinge of it on Easter evening, when my nieces, sister and I sent her little videos of the fun we were having. She texted us back, “I have a serious case of FOMO.” At the time, none of us could figure out what “FOMO” even meant, but we completely understood once we looked it up online.

Then it occurred to me while reading about Thomas from the gospel of John this week, that he must have had the worst FOMO of all time:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

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 20:19-29, NRSV).

While Addie was sad that she was missing out on family who lives far away (that she will get to see again this summer), Thomas felt like he had missed out on the most EPIC reunion of all time. His personal Rabbi, with whom he had spent the last three years living, and for whom he gave up any semblance of his previous life, had died brutally in a public execution. And he missed it when Jesus appeared again.

What Thomas would have given to see Jesus again! To touch his hands and feet; to see the wounds on his body. He was filled with grief and remorse that he had missed that moment.

Of course we remember him as “Doubting Thomas,” and I suppose it has stuck for so long because it is comforting for all of us who haven’t had the opportunity to “See” for ourselves. Without Thomas and his need to SEE, we wouldn’t have heard these powerful words from Jesus, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).

Unlike those scared disciples huddled in a locked room, we see because we believe; we don’t believe because we see. Jesus reminds us through his words to Thomas that we receive a special blessing in that.

Many scholars and theologians have a lot to say about faith, believing, doubt, and understanding. It’s a little overwhelming to be sure! My favorite for the week came from commentator Clayton Schmidt, writing the “Feasting on the Word” Lectionary Commentary for Easter 2 Year A, “Faith is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve.” It’s ironic, isn’t it, that while we can agree that faith is a mystery of the heart we find entire tomes written to “work out” what faith is and try to rationalize or explain things like belief and doubt.

Faith is a mystery of the heart, and when we get our minds too invested in trying to figure it all out, we are actually missing out on the freedom of leaning into that mystery, being enveloped, surrounded, and comforted by it.

Take for instance, that wonderfully warm feeling of peace that washes over you in a moment of trial or tragedy. That’s a mystery of faith and it holds fast. . . until our minds get busy (our minds are practicing their own version of FOMO! They don’t want to miss out on anything, so our minds begin their processing). Rather than resting in that peace and soaking it up, we think, “Wait, this is terrible! What am I going to do? How will I solve this?” and then our minds race with all the “What ifs?” and “Whys?” and as our mind becomes more active we destroy that incredible peace that came as a gift of faith; a promise from the Spirit that we are cared for and comforted. It could be what we read about in the epistles: “A peace that passes understanding” (Phil 4:7). But our minds cannot understand it, and more often than not, in our attempt to try and understand or explain it, we utterly destroy it.

If there’s anything to be learned about Thomas and the blessing of believing without seeing, it is that we would do well to let go of our need to prove and explain everything. There is a special blessing to be found in a child-like faith: a faith that feels and experiences while engaging fully in the wonder of it all.

It’s almost as if it is a choice then, to believe. To believe even when we feel our prayers aren’t answered; to believe even in the face of terrible evil and destruction in the world. I think I like the way Madeleine L’Engle, a wonderful weaver of fictional tales and a beautiful commentator on living a life of faith, responded when asked, “Do you believe in God without any doubts?” In her self-assured way, she answered, “I believe in God with all my doubts.”

May you also lean in and embrace the mystery. May you find yourself full of wonder and willing to let go of your need to understand every little detail. May you come to believe in God with all your doubts.

With Hope,

Rev. Paula

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