Practicing Resurrection: The Quest for Truth

John 20:24-31

Today, we continue our adventures in practicing resurrection. Last week, we learned the healing power of breath. When we pause, noticing our joys and sorrows, our well-being and pain, and breathe deeply, we may be breathing the same air as the women and men did in that upper room. We may discover that the energy of God’s Spirit supports us even on our darkest days.

One of my favorite biblical stories is Thomas’ resurrection experience. Perhaps, because in my training as a theologian and philosopher of religion, I believe intellectual honesty is an essential qualification in the journey of faith. Too many people make fantastic promises or false claims in the realm of religion. Doubt is like Lysol for the soul; it helps us find our way through a world in which there is more “false news” – even in religion – than accurate reporting. Indeed, Kate and I honored Thomas the disciple by giving our son two gospel names – Matthew, the gift of God, and Thomas, the faithful agnostic; for healthy faith is always balanced by a bit of open-ended agnosticism, that keeps us humble and reminds us that we could be wrong, and others right.

Thomas is the doubter, and he has good reason. He was gone when Jesus appeared to his friends. They are ecstatic but he’s left out. He doesn’t want to fall for an illusion or untruth. He wants to know the truth that sets us free, and so he has questions, big questions about life and death and resurrection.

Thomas’ doubt is the pathway to faith. He doesn’t run away, even though he’s missed the resurrection. He sticks around, hoping to find the answers he needs to restore his faith and find meaning in a death-filled world, and when he encounters Jesus – the wounded, but resurrected one – he rejoices and believes.

The Jesus he encounters is different than he imagined, I suspect. Jesus is known not by a halo or thousands of attending angels but by his wounds. The resurrection occurs on earth in its imperfection, and not in a pain free heaven. The wounds of Jesus remind us of our own wounds and the wounds of the world, a world of millions of hungry children, of homeless sleeping in Barnstable woods, of a friend dying of cancer, and a family member struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. Resurrection does not avoid the pain of the world but transforms it, and gives us the courage to confront it, knowing that whatever pain we feel was experienced by our Savior and his first followers.

Thomas also reminds us of the power of truth seeking, whether in the hospital room, laboratory, sanctuary, or halls of government. Thomas is a believer, but he is also a scientist. His quest for the embodied, resurrected Jesus reminds us that our quests to learn about our planet are blessed by God.

These days, the media talks about a “war on science” spearheaded in good measure by Christians who want biblical images to trump the quest for truth wherever it leads. These Christians want six day creation stories taught in classrooms as equal to the grand fourteen billion year universe story of evolution and our own planet’s five billion year adventures. They also want to put the kibosh on studying climate change because they see it as a challenge to a literal understanding of the Second Coming of Jesus. But, Thomas takes a different path. I believe that he inspired second century Christians to proclaim that wherever truth is found, God is its source, whether in Greek philosophy which shapes John’s Gospel or the Greek language of the New Testament and its radical difference in spirit from Hebrew.

Christians have discovered that when they turn away from the quest for truth, believing scripture to be a book of science not faith, the church usually suffers:

  • Few of us believe that the earth is flat though the concept of a round earth was declared heretical by church leaders.
  • Few of us believe that the earth is the center of the universe, around which the sun revolves, though the church persecuted Galileo for imagining a sun centered solar system.

Science, like every human endeavor, can be wrong and it can be motivated by greed as well as truth seeking. Scientific discoveries are helpful but also problematic: thank God for nuclear energy, yet nuclear warfare can destroy our planet; thank God for MRI’s and CT scans, but without the human touch, patients are abandoned in their pain; thank God for technology, automobiles, and computers, but these have led to pollution and a 24/7 world in which many of us spend more time on our gadgets than personal relationships or reflection.

Faith needs the expansive spirit of science, and science needs faith to give it meaning, direction, and a moral compass. Honest science and honest faith are never opposed – so don’t check your mind at the door when you come to church. Honest science and honest faith honor each other’s insights and work together to fathom the universe and find ways to feed the hungry and care for the sick.

According to legend, Thomas left Judea and journeyed to the East, eventually establishing Christianity in India. Perhaps, only Thomas, with his quest for truth, could dialogue with Hindu and Buddhist sages. Perhaps, Thomas alone, could appreciate the wisdom of the East and articulate Jesus’ message in a way that Buddhists and Hindus could understand, and for his adventurous truth seeking, and faithful agnosticism, we must be thankful.

Today, as we practice resurrection, let us affirm the resurrection body and love God in the world of the flesh – let us do what we can to ensure the well-being of our brothers and sisters across the globe; let us be truth seekers in the news and in our faith; let us ask questions of our political and spiritual leaders and not be content with half truths. Let us, with Thomas, embrace the quest for knowledge, and remember that wherever we find truth, God is its source – in the laboratory, fossil field, in outer space, and in our neighborhoods.