Incredulous...

Let's be honest: some things are simply hard to believe...

For the longest time, my favorite apostle was John—you know, the Gospel writer. I learned somewhere along the way that he was (most likely) in his early 20's when he encountered Jesus and became one of the twelve. I was intrigued by the idea that someone in that middle space between child and adult could simply drop everything and start tagging along with this stranger who was basically asking him to become a homeless, socialist vagabond. And yet I couldn't blame him. There have definitely been times in my own life where I would rather have left everything behind for the sake of adventure, for the prospect of something bigger than me. We aren't talking some grandiose rom-com or Pay It Forward experience. We're talking about something that brings meaning.

Then I went to Rome...

One of the churches we visited on our two-week church-hopping marathon was Saint Sabina. Though once very ornate (probably because some pious old white guy decided that a church was not a church unless it was covered in gold), this space had been returned to its original, rather plain state. It was different in its simplicity. But my own epiphany did not take place in the sanctuary, or even in its cloister. It took place in a museum the church houses that is filled with various artifacts pertaining to the history of the Dominicans. In that simple space I found the above painting: the Incredulity of Thomas.

Though there are many paintings that share this title (just Google it if you don't trust me), something about this one was striking. Something about the look on Jesus face. Something about the tenderness and gentleness with which Thomas reaches inside his Rabbi's wound. Something almost... sexual.

Not sexual in a carnal, uncontrollable sense. Sexual in a deeply intimate sense. The kind of sexual that leads one person to truly know another. I mean—didn't the biblical phrase "to know someone" sometimes mean to have intercourse with them? Ask my Greek and Hebrew friends—I opted out.

Then there's Thomas. One of the older disciples, he's been around the block. He's seen friends and loved ones come and go. In this particular painting, though his hand is reaching towards the wound, his eyes are pointed elsewhere: towards Jesus. His friend. His teacher. They're seeking. Searching. Questioning. Here's my point in all of this...

Maybe true, gut-level intimacy necessitates doubt and the asking of questions

Growing up in the between Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana in various Southern and Independent Baptist churches, I was taught that many things were wrong. Don't drink. Don't have sex before marriage. Don't kill. Don't be gay. Most of all, don't ask questions!!!

Especially of God...

I've heard this last rule repeated over and over from patients I encountered in the hospital this summer—people with debilitating illnesses or terminal prognoses. I've heard them say, "But it's God! You're not supposed to question God! Can't God do whatever [He] wants?!?! Shouldn't we just go along with it?!?!" I used to say yes. Used to...

Then I developed one of my now foremost understandings of God: God is relational. The very nature of the Trinity is such that God, Jesus, and the Spirit are in this ever-moving, ever-flowing dance with each other. The theological word used to describe this movement is perichoresis (forgive me... it's one of my favorite words that I like to drop whenever I get the chance).

God, Jesus, and the Spirit know each other. Deeply. Now we can't speak to how exactly this works. There's no transcript of trinitarian conversations (imagine the uproar the Church might be in if there were). Who knows? Maybe they're so attuned to each other that they don't need to ask questions. Maybe they just know.

We aren't them, though, are we? We're human

And for us, questions are a driving force that simply cannot be ignored—not without consequence. Imagine what the world might be like if some of the most pivotal questions had never been asked. We might not have the wheel, fire, time, penicillin, pacemakers, clean water, etc. The list could go on forever. But because someone was willing to ask a question, we have these things.

The same goes for relationships. Imagine not asking someone to marry you (if that's important to you). Imagine not asking what your partner enjoys sexually. What their dreams are. What their fears are. What their needs are. We learn about others by asking questions and listening. Sometimes we're great at asking questions but not listening. Other times, we can listen until we're blue in the face but never really know the right questions to ask. Sometimes questions stem out of innocent curiosity. Other times, they come from a deeper place—a place of need. A need to know.

Too often, Thomas gets a bad rap...

I've heard so many sermons over the years where the Thomas' doubt gets ridiculed, scorned, or chastised. How dare he doubt Jesus' promise of his own resurrection! But can you blame him? I mean, come on. How could the idea of a guy experiencing what Christ did (extreme torture followed by grueling execution) and then coming back to life sound feasible?! It doesn't. That's the point. Personally, I don't think Thomas' doubt comes from a place of disrespect of a lack of faith. I think it comes from heartbreak. I think it comes from having experienced the loss of someone he dearly loved and trying to make sense of this new world in which he found himself. I think it comes from experiencing that last thread of hope suddenly slip out of his hands—hope that his world would ever be the same again, hope that his relationship with this dear friend would continue just as it had for the past several years.

When my grandma died in a car crash just over two years ago, I suddenly found my loyalties shifting, or at least becoming shared. In John, I found a compatriot who thought about things deeply, who craved affection and purpose, and who valued relationships and love. Yet in Thomas, I found a new kind of friend. Someone willing to ask the hard questions, even of God.

I don't know who came up with the idea that questioning God, God's motives, or God's actions (or inactions) is wrong, but I'd like to meet him (just roll with me on the gender assumption). If I had that chance, I'd point out David, Thomas, Job, even Paul. There are probably more biblical characters who dared question God. I'd ask why he thought it was wrong to hold God accountable for the ways in which God does and does not act in the world.

...I'm not afraid to question God anymore...

Recently, after seeing a patient come out of surgery in severe pain with no standing order for narcotics, I found myself enraged with God. If God truly is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, how could this happen? Where was God when this person's brain tumor showed up? When another patient's multiple sclerosis rid them of their mobility, their speech, their independence? When a mother lost not one, not two, but all of her sons in gun shootings? Where was God when a cargo van hit my grandma's car at just the right angle and speed needed to kill her and ultimately my aunt?

It's okay to question God. We might not get an answer, for many reasons. Maybe God doesn't want to tell us. Maybe God thinks our knowing might cause more harm than good. Most frightening, maybe it's because God doesn't have an answer to give us. Maybe God doesn't know the answer anymore than we do. I don't know what that says about God, about us, or about our relationship to each other.

...But unless we're willing to ask, we'll never know