Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Searching for Answers

Doubting Thomas is a warning figure to most people. He’s the disciple -- other than Judas -- that we shouldn’t emulate. He screwed up. Right?

In the 1980s an Australian doctor named Barry Marshall started to doubt. All his doctor buddies said that ulcers were caused by stress. That was the accepted theory so the treatment of ulcers called for a reduction in stress. Dr. Marshall started to notice a few things that called into question the standard ideas.

He noticed that everyone who had ulcers also had a certain bacterium present in their stomachs. He presented his information to the scientific community and they resoundingly ignored him.

Thomas was out when Jesus came to greet the disciples in the upper room. Maybe he was going to get some Pepto Bismal for all the stressed-out disciples hiding from the Romans, the Jews, and the cold, hard truth of Jesus’ death. When he got back everyone was shouting and talking all at once. They’d seen something -- a ghost maybe -- but Thomas wasn’t convinced. Maybe he went over to check the carbon monoxide detector to make sure the disciples weren’t loopy on fumes. He opened a window and waited.

Dr. Marshall was ignored by the scientific community. In desperation he infected himself with the ulcer causing bacteria, got ulcers, and then cured himself with antibiotics. That was in 1985, but for a decade the scientific community continued to claim that ulcers were caused by stress. In the mid-90s Dr. Marshall started to receive awards and, in 2005, he was given the Nobel Prize for his discovery.

Eight days after Thomas declared to the disciples that he would need some proof of Jesus’ resurrection, he got it. Jesus came in to the upper room and found Thomas. He walked up and offered the proof that Thomas asked for. In return, Thomas worshipped him as God.

Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas, but sought him out. Jesus didn’t tell Thomas that he was a bad person for questioning -- though he did praise those who “have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29). Thomas is singled out as the doubter of the crowd, but he’s the only one of the disciples who hadn’t seen Jesus up to that point. He asked for the proof that they already had.

Questions, both emotional and logical, give us a way to search for answers. They are a doorway to understanding. But the journey to answers will look different for each of us. Both Dr. Marshall and Thomas refused to accept the standard answers. They both doubted the establishment and asked questions despite the assurances of their peers that they didn’t need to.

But Thomas and Dr. Marshall used their questions to go in very different directions. Thomas was a confirmed skeptic until he had proof and Dr. Marshall was a confirmed believer in the midst of skeptics. Neither one was wrong in the way they searched for answers. They both took their questions and used them to fuel a search for answers.

Your search might stem from an emotional question: Why do bad things happen to good people? If God really loved me why would he allow this?

Or your search might come from logical questions: If God is omnipotent, then why doesn’t he just forgive everyone? How can the bible be true if it contradicts science?  

The real challenge is to not let questions lie fallow, but to work them and use them to search for answers.

If your questions are emotional, then sit with your emotions. Look at what you feel. Try to figure out why you feel that way. Use tools like journaling, conversations, counseling, meditation, and creativity to express and explore your emotions and the emotional root of your questions.

If your questions are logical, then study, research, learn, and grow. Learn how to process a logical argument. Study the origins of the universe. Dig into theology and philosophy. Look for the logical root of your questions and explore it.

The truth is that most questions have some logic and some emotion in them. You might find yourself bouncing back and forth between the approaches as you look for answers. One thing you will almost definitely discover is that the search for answers only leads to more questions. That’s okay.


Have you had everyone around you tell you that you’re wrong? How did that feel? What did it make you want to do?

Are you more of a skeptic or an optimist? How does that make you feel when you talk with friends and family?

Do you think it’s better to be a skeptic or an optimist? Why?

What has been a good way for you to find answers in the past? Have you found ways that don’t work for you? Why do you think that is?

How do you think the church would be different if people were encouraged to search for answers?

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