The Apostle Thomas gets a raw deal.
Really, in mainstream American Christianity, and in the secular popular imagination, he gets reduced to some kind of one-dimensional figure, known only for a moment in which he was proven wrong.
He’s “Doubting Thomas,” the one witness to the resurrected Christ who takes a moment to think rationally about the situation.
Apparently this makes him a faithless gloomy-Gus, fully deserving of the admonishment (“You have seen and believed, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed”) he gets from his Lord in the Gospel according to John.
The mainstream narrative seems to conclude, at least implicitly, that Thomas doubted because he was weak, and that we should move on to more important characters. I say that Thomas was at least doing a bit better than some other figures, set up as admirable, who nevertheless did questionable things during the episodes of the Passion and Resurrection. (Looking at you, Peter, what with the servant’s ear and the rooster crowing.) In fact, Thomas comes off to me as rather heroic because of his doubt, not in spite of it.
Doubt is a constant companion of mine. On an individual level, I am mentally ill, and two symptoms I experience pretty often are derealization and paranoia. I cannot seem to hold on to a secure sense of reality–whether that means not suspecting that my friends and loved ones secretly hate me or are merely spending time with me out of pity, or simply not thinking that my entire perception is an illusion.
And as part of the queer Christian community, I am faced with doubt on a collective level.
These are the things the narrative of mainstream Christianity has us second-guessing: Whether queer people are saved, whether we are allowed act on our loves and our desires, whether it’s possible to be queer and Christian at the same time at all.
There is this mealy-mouthed Pharisaical consensus among too many of our straight brethren–everyone knows the one–that they “love the sinner and hate the sin.” That merely being queer isn’t sinful, but those icky acts of queer relationship and sex are. That we can feel however we want, but God only accepts us if we act straight. All this does is let them hate and discriminate while cloaking themselves in a veil of compassion. But we’re not to judge them, so we don’t doubt their sincerity. Where does that leave us but in a void of doubt?
One thing that can rescue me when I’m adrift in my derealization is confirming my physical reality. That I’m grounded in my body, that my five senses are working, that I’m alive and here and now. That’s a lot like what Thomas did to dispel his infinitely greater and graver doubt; he laid hands on his Savior and grasped at proof. The others were too caught up in the terror and wonder of the moment, of the promised Resurrection, to confirm any of it.
But although Thomas’s fear was the greatest of all of them, his doubt threatening to overwhelm him, his courage was also greatest.
He admitted the shakiness of his belief and in doing so changed it into a faith stronger than iron. Perhaps that’s what we as queer Christians need to do for one another: Tell each other how scared and uncertain we are, and establish ourselves in the world as we are, not as bigots tell us we ought to be.
One of the great hymns of the 20th Century, “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real,” by Thomas Troeger, takes as much of a sympathetic view of the Twin as I do, and establishes what mattered in its (accurately, I think) imagined Thomas’s mind: “These things did Thomas count as real: The warmth of blood; the chill of steel; the grain of wood; the heft of stone; the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.”
Thomas was still reeling from the pain of Christ’s suffering and death. And the queer Christian existence is fraught with pain simply from being in the world as we are.
What matters is what Thomas did with that pain, and what we do with ours.
We may well always have it with us. We may as well seize the opportunity and build our faith firmer on it.
Photo via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.