A Short Theology of Thomas
In John 20 after Jesus has reportedly been resurrected from the dead Jesus’ disciple Thomas responds by saying,
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
Thomas is skeptical. He struggles to believe. Thomas is the patron saint of the doubting. He is our patron saint. Many of us have intense doubt. We ask questions like, “Is any of this true? Does this really matter? Does this faith thing really have any value?”
It is in the steps of Thomas that we walk. Doubting. Questioning. Seething. Longing. We believe these are admirable things.
Unflinching certainty. Dogmatism. Steadfast self-assurance. Self-righteousness. These are the things of domination, oppression, manipulation and tunnel vision.
We walk in the twilight between belief, disbelief and agnosticism…and we like it there.
Are you really Christian?
It depends who you ask.
Does every one of us affirm every aspect of the Apostle’s Creed? No, not all of us. Do we strive to live as Jesus did on earth? Yes, because it is self-evidently good.
Christianity is the tradition through which we worship God. We believe their is beauty and power in the historical practices of Christianity; gathering, singing, contemplation, activism, reading scripture, etc. Still, we embrace people and practices for other faiths (or lack thereof).
We are followers of Jesus Christ, therefore we say we are Christian.
Belief & Doubt
The word believe/faith/trust in the New Testament (pisteuo) has a range of meanings. It’s less about believing with your intellect but having faith and trust in God. It’s being faithful to a lifestyle that is Christlike (“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27) and trusting that this is truly the best way to live. It’s about committing ones loyalty and heart to something.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson writes,
“A rationalistic trinitarian theology, dysfunctional and divorced from Christian life and ethics has little practical effect.”
The Persons of our Triune God relates to one another in a beautiful dance of continual and mutual loving, giving, and indwelling. The Trinity represents communal, sharing and self-giving love. We must not simply believe Trinitarian, but we must live Trinitarian.
The message of Jesus is that God so loved the world that God chose to be with God’s beloved. God not only observes our plight from afar but was empathetic enough to enter our experience. Jesus personified, as Justo Gonzalez puts it, “For-otherness”. As Jesus put it,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your being and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
God in Christ would have come to be with us even if human beings had not messed up. The fact that the world is broken makes it so that suffering and death of the cross became part of Jesus’ story.
The primary purpose was union in love. But not even humanity’s most powerful weapon, death, could defeat Love. So Love resurrected. That is the story we live out today; through love death becomes life
The Spirit can be hard to define. She’s not a person like we tend to think of people. In Hebrew her names are ruach which means breath or wind, and neshamah which means life breath. In Greek she goes by pneuma which again means breath or wind.
But the bible uses many images for the Spirit: fire, water, cloud, dove and helper. Just like the wind, the Holy Spirit is not a being we see like a rabbit, or a human, but is like the wind. We don’t see the wind, but we see the leaves blowing in the Autumn.
In the same way the Spirit is not something we can grasp with our hands, but is something of which we see the effects. And if we believe it when John writes that God is love. We discover the divine Spirit in the very act of love itself.
The Bible is not merely a collection of loosely related stories and letters, but a collection of interrelated documents that contribute to a larger narrative. This narrative is the story of the redemption of creation. We reject the terms inerrant and infallible but prefer inspired and authoritative. We take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. Scholar Marcus Borg quotes an anonymous priest, saying, “The Bible is true, and some of it happened.” That is to say that the Truth of the Bible is not dependent on its historical factuality.
Humans were created in the image of a God who is communal as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created to reflect that by being in loving community with one another. We were created with diversity; race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We often neglect or refuse to recognize one another’s humanity and as a result cause great harm.
We are all sexual beings in some way. We all long to be in relation and community with others. This of course includes romantic and platonic relations.
As creatures who reflect God’s image we are all born with aspects of God. We do not say God is without gender, because within the divine is all sexualities and gender.
Therefore, we celebrate gender and sex diversity; feminine or masculine, female, male, trans, intersex, etc. Likewise, we equally cherish all sexual orientations; lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, straight…All reflections of the divine. Certainly there has been deviations of God’s created sexuality; rape, sexual abuse, pedophilia, etc. None of which are tolerated because they are not consensual or mutually life-giving. But in the context of a life-giving, mutual and legal relationship ALL ARE WELCOMED, EMBRACED AND CELEBRATED for who they are.
Body & Soul
This body/soul divide is not biblical, but in our western minds we might have trouble seeing things in any other way. The soul is not separate from the body. The soul is the body in its entirety. The intellect, the physical form, the emotions…all of it. The word Paul uses for soul (psyche) doesn’t mean the ghost version of you. It means you in all your “youness". It means your whole self. It’s not some separate ghost of you.
A view of the human as a unified body/soul brings life into this world. It means to give food to the hungry, to promote rest and peace among the restless, to relate and interact with one another in a way that serves the other and puts their interest first, and to pray with one another. It is caring for the whole person here and now.
The Human Condition
The way we think about brokenness (aka sin) is through the lens of what is life-giving and what is life-destroying (see Galatians 5:14,19-23).
We are to ask the question, “Does this promote life (human flourishing) or promote death of some sort?” All good things show love and concern for others and all twisted things are selfish or destructive to another’s or one’s own life.
The thing with rules or laws of any kind is that they are deconstructible. Laws are always historical, regional, variable, repealable, amendable. Laws are always contextual. Because of this any statement, rule or law is opened up to dissection, criticism and testing. So “sin” and “virtue” are always open to scrutiny, change and reversal.
Romans 10:9-10 tells us,
“Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation.”
Again, faith/belief is not what’s known as a cognitive assent it is trusting in, being faithful to a life that reflects the God that raised Jesus from the dead. It’s not really believing, it’s beloving.
Therefore, salvation or redemption is not a result checking the right box but is the result of loving correctly. Loving as our God loves. Loving like one who gives life to that which was dead.
Salvation is not in the far off future in heavenly realm, but can take place immediately.
What are we saved from? It’s not eternal torment in some fiery hell. That’s unbiblical mythology. That’s Dante. We’re being saved from is a world which promotes death. From a world where the big guy wins, where vengeance, anger and greed flourish, where the weak-the different-the unfortunate-the widow-the orphan-the foreigner-the oppressed are all left to rot because they just couldn’t get ahead. Hell here and now.
What are we saved to? Heaven is shorthand for “the Kingdom of the Heavens”. It is a perfect Kingdom that feels as distant as the heavens but if we live for others in love we initiate little bits of the Kingdom which we hope will arrive fully someday.
We are invited to create little glimpses of God’s perfect Kingdom here on earth by means of living like Jesus. Heaven here and now.