Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Be not doubting, but believing.”
Tomorrow, April 8, 2018—the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B in the liturgical calendar—the Revised Common Lectionary serves up the familiar story of “Doubting Thomas” from John 20:19-31.
Like many preachers around the globe on this day, I will deliver a message about the nobility of doubt; about how it’s okay to have questions about one’s faith; about how Jesus responds to Thomas by giving him what he needs in order to be “not doubting, but believing.”
And—perhaps also like many preachers, at least in Canada—my thoughts will be with the families touched by yesterday’s fatal highway crash near Tisdale, Saskatchewan.
Fourteen people are dead and 15 are in hospital after a transport truck collided with a bus carrying a junior hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos. The team is part of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, which is open to players 20 years or younger. Thirteen of the Broncos players are from Saskatchewan, 10 are from Alberta, and one is from Manitoba—but this tragedy has sent shock waves around the world, with coverage by news agencies from as far away as Britain and the Netherlands.
But closer to home, as families and friends come to terms with loss and shock and uncertainty, grief cries out in anguished prayer: “Why?”
“Why, God? Why?”
How could a benevolent God permit this calamity? How can we not doubt his goodness? What can we believe in, when our world is suddenly made empty?
When our hearts are breaking, we ask such questions. We ask them without expecting satisfying answers. For what kind of answers could possibly be acceptable?
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
What if you just want to hold your son’s hand again? Or hug him one more time? Or see him walk again?
As a pastor for more than 20 years—and as a parent—I know better than to offer up platitudes in the face of this catastrophe. Neither will I attempt to somehow make sense of it all.
I can’t even think of anything comforting to say. I do not know why—any more than any of you know why—bad things happen to good people. Or why misfortune strikes the young, and the innocent, and the ones who appear to deserve it least.
All I can tell you is that, as I reflect upon these things, my heart’s attention is drawn to the wounds that Thomas wanted to see and touch on that long-ago Easter evening: Jesus’ pierced hands and feet; the wound torn in his side by the legionary’s spear. They remind me that (and no, this isn’t very satisfying, either) pain and sorrow are as intrinsically part of human existence as are pleasure and joy. When God took on our human flesh—as Christians believe he did, in the person of Jesus Christ—he did not exempt himself from the worst suffering that humanity must endure. If he had, he would not have been authentically one of us.
The God against whom in our grief we rail is the same God who was ridiculed and tortured and left on a cross to die. And he is the same God who accompanies us in our most desperate times, and weeps with us in our most desolate places. This is the broken-hearted God, and he knocks at the door of your heart and of mine, here and now.
I hope we find the grace to let him in.