My nephew and his wife began deconstructing their faith a couple of years ago. I like my nephew. He is a smart, thoughtful man. His parents are Christians. His grandfather was a Baptist pastor. Two of his uncles are in ministry. And now he, according to his mom (the pastor’s kid), is deconstructing his faith.
To deconstruct is not the same as to demolish. He still believes in Jesus. The last time I spoke to his mom, he was still involved in a church. From what I understand (and I hope I’m not misrepresenting him), his doubts have driven him to dismantle his belief system and discard some of its components. I don’t know when his doubts started, but I suspect it was years ago, maybe even decades.
Doubt is not a sin (though sin – ours or someone else’s – may cause it), but it is a terrible inconvenience, a painful experience, and a symptom that something is not right. Pretending we don’t have doubts is not helpful. Yet many people are – or have been taught to be – ashamed of their doubts, terrified to admit them, and thereby helpless to do anything to change them.
My nephew, if I understand correctly, realized that some of the things his parents and his church had taught him conflict with other things he now accepts as true. I suspect that realization took time, perhaps years. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes doubts do not grow within but assault us from without.
The Apostle Thomas’s doubts did not arise out of a growing dissonance of conflicting beliefs. One day he rested easy in faith. The next he was drowning in doubt. Whether doubts arise slowly or attack without warning, the way Jesus dealt with Thomas in his doubts can instruct and encourage us.
When Thomas heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, he did not believe it. I think that Thomas didn’t want – didn’t dare – to believe it. He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah and spent three years following him. He didn’t marry. He didn’t work a job. He left everything to follow Jesus and what had it gotten him? Anguish.
He wasn’t going to let that happen again. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” Thomas was not going to be fooled twice. He held onto his skepticism, which was rooted in disappointment, to protect himself.
Here is what he said: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” “I will not believe” is emphatic because of a double negative in the original language: “I will not – will not – believe!”
Thomas had set his conditions for belief, and they were stringent. He required redundant proof. He must see; he must feel. He demanded both visual and tactile confirmation, and not just of Jesus hands but also of his side. Thomas would have made a good scientist, right at home with double-blind tests and repeatability of results requirements.
How must Jesus have felt about Thomas’s doubts? His personally chosen apostle refused to believe in him. His friend, for whom he died, continued to doubt him.
The Bible does not tell us how Jesus felt, but it does tell us how he responded. Instead of reproaching, demoting, or ousting Thomas from the Apostolic band, he accommodated him. He helped him.
Millions of people doubt Jesus today. Across the country, untold numbers are deconstructing their faith. They are doubting what they have been taught, sometimes with good reason. But some are also doubting the One about whom they have been taught; they are doubting Jesus. How does he feel about that? Does it make him angry?
People who get angry under such circumstances get angry because they are insecure. Jesus is not insecure. He does not get angry when people doubt and question him. He is ready to help anyone who genuinely wants to know the truth.