A mother of a young boy came home one day to find the family cat dead in the back yard. She wasn’t sure just what had happened. It looked like maybe a dog had gotten the cat but it was very much dead and she decided to go ahead and bury the cat so her son wouldn’t have to see the rather frightening sight. She picked up her son at school later that day and told him she had some bad news for him. Their cat was dead and she was so sorry to have to tell him that. She quickly went on to try and soothe the boy’s pain by explaining what happens after death. She said that the cat was now in heaven with Jesus and that one day when he died and went to heaven he would get to see his cat once again. Attempting to be a good mother she asked, “Now, son, would you like to ask any questions?” “Yes,” the boy replied. “What does Jesus want with a dead cat?”
Children ask wonderful questions. Maybe we think those questions eventually go away but my experience is that the questions continue even into old age and, if anything, they get bigger and bigger. About once a year a parent of a teenager will call me and say something like this: “Robert, I don’t know what to do. My son all of a sudden says he doesn’t believe in God anymore. What do I tell him?” Each time that happens I can feel the fear in the parent’s voice but I have to admit that I get a little excited when a teenager, or anyone for that matter, expresses doubt. “Now something really big is going to happen”, I think. When people are curious enough to question something, then the universe is starting to open up. Until we question something, it’s not very real. But when we question and wonder and doubt, we start to make discoveries for ourselves. Important matters become real for us instead of just real for others. The painful part is that the time of questioning lasts a while and it may express itself in anger or defiance or anxiety or something equally uncomfortable. But doubt leads to an affirmation of faith. Mature faith, in fact, always involves a time of questioning.
Maybe one thing the Episcopal Church does better than most places is to encourage asking questions. Some approaches fear the time of questioning and try to fill everybody up with all the answers so that the questions will never come. We try to get you to question things knowing the questions lead to truer and deeper faith. If you tell me you don’t believe in God, I’m actually going to get a little excited, knowing your questions will form your path of faith. Questions are like being hungry: they lead us to be fed. Sometimes we are so busy eating all the time that we never experience hunger. And some approaches to faith feed answers all the time rather than encouraging that inner hunger to lead on the path of salvation.
Every year, on the Sunday after the Day of Easter, we read about Thomas expressing doubts, asking questions, saying that he won’t believe unless he sees Jesus for himself and touches his wounds. It’s actually one of my favorite Sundays of the year. All the hoopla is over. Now the real stuff of faith can begin. God raises his Son from death to engender faith in us. And we begin the important work of growing into faith, of making the resurrection real for ourselves. And we do that not necessarily by saying, “Wow, that’s great.” We often start by saying, “I’m not sure I actually believe that.”
What sort of questions do you need to be asking in your faith journey? There are lots of them to ask. Why is there suffering? What sort of responsibility do I bear in my relationships? What do I need to take up? What do I need to put down? How can I help others? How do I need to let others take care of themselves? What sort of hole in my soul am I trying to fill? What is within my control and what is beyond my control? What sort of prejudice and bigotry am I carrying? What am I so afraid of? Where is all this anger coming from? How is it that there are three or four people in my life who hook me and bring out the very worst in me? What are my struggles that I keep avoiding? What change is really threatening me? What sort of idols have I latched onto?
It seems that Thomas gets some answer to his questioning. He wants to see Jesus in person and put his hands in the wounds for which he is partly to blame. He receives some peace as Jesus makes himself known to him. But surely Thomas leaves this meeting with even more questions. How is it that life, after it is gone, continues or changes? How is it that the very worst things I can imagine get turned into things that form new faith? How is it that I know hope but still know fear? Just how big is God and how is it that he is above and beyond all things yet right here with me in such a personal way? Faith isn’t the answering of our questions or the solving of riddles. Faith is the path of wondering and growing and coming to know love and be love.
Ask away. What is your very biggest question? And what is the smallest? Ask away. The risen Christ will make himself known to you. The questions hurt. Growth hurts. Faith hurts. And how good that is.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.