Melanie Storie: Apistos, Pistos (Unbelief, Belief)

John 20:24-29 (RSV)

 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Matthew 16:20-23 (RSV)

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance[a] to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

What state should you live in? Which Jane Austen heroine are you? What 80’s song best describes you?

If pondering these questions keeps you up late at night, then might I recommend a Buzzfeed quiz? For me, there is something giddily ridiculous about taking a Buzzfeed quiz. The questions themselves often have nothing to do with the subject matter and the results are dubious at best.

My results on the above mentioned quizzes were Montana (beautiful, but no sweet tea or grits, so it’s out), Fanny Price (not Elizabeth Bennett?!), and “Don’t Stop Believing” (I do have it on my iPhone…). There’s even a quiz entitled “Which disciple of Jesus are you?” Somehow, an algorithm including favorite colors and vacation spots yields me a result of Matthew.

This time, I’m sure the Buzzfeed gremlins are wrong. I am a Thomas and I’m raising a Peter.

Thomas gets a bad rap for his undue reputation as a doubter. Not to get too scholarly, but the word often translated as “doubt” in regards to Thomas is more literally “unbelieving.” Jesus is more closely saying, “Change your unbelief to belief, Thomas.” Then Jesus offers Thomas his wounded hands.

Thomas is often used as a cautionary tale. Don’t be like Thomas. Don’t question. Don’t doubt. Just believe. Thomas reacts to the news that Jesus is alive by questioning. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I would have reacted the same way.

I grew up in church and made my profession of faith in 6th grade. I was baptized soon after in a hideous yellow overall outfit that I loved. I had a special love for Jesus and a desire to be more like him.

As I grew into my teenage years, my belief in Jesus never really wavered, but I had questions for the people who taught me at church. Why are Christians the only ones to get to heaven? Is it those people’s faults if they haven’t heard about Jesus, a cross, and a tomb? Didn’t Confucius have his own version of the Golden Rule? What does that mean?

I once asked a church camp leader, “When did Jesus know he was the Messiah?” The leader responded by saying that Jesus always knew. At that point, I was older and knew better than to question further. A few years prior to that, I would have asked how a baby could have divine knowledge.

It would have saved me a lot of heartache from weird looks and lectures if one of those leaders had recognized that maybe all of my questions were the beginnings of a call to ministry. One mentor of mine told me that I was “analytical.” It took me a while to realize it was a compliment.

I was so used to the funny look I got when I started to ask the questions I asked. It was the look that said, “Please just listen to the lesson and accept it like everyone else.”

Now, I accept that analytical side of me. Honestly, it’s the part of me that keeps me Baptist when other denominations sometimes seem more attractive to me. I don’t really need or want anyone else to tell me what is “right” when it comes to my faith. I will work on my unbelief and belief between the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and my own mostly capable brain.

My oldest son, Aidan, was baptized a couple of years ago in the New River by his pastor father with our church family gathered around. My youngest son, Owen, might “walk the aisle” any day now.

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As parents, communicating our faith at the point in our children’s lives when they are moving from concrete to abstract thinking is a daunting task. My conversations with Owen have been different than my conversations with Aidan were. Aidan is a Thomas like me. Owen is a Peter. And Peter is a different bird all together.

On Good Friday, my boys and I walked through the Stations of the Cross at our church. These stations are designed for people to walk alongside Jesus in his final hours. As we reflect on those hours in the life of Jesus and his followers, the events become more personal to us and our relationship with Jesus is renewed.

Aidan, Owen, and I walked through the stations separately and I could see Owen growing more concerned and emotional as he touched palms and nails and surveyed the wondrous cross. I exited the sanctuary behind him and he broke into tears. As I hugged him, he cried, “I hate the Romans!” As I comforted him and offered him explanations for what he experienced, he said, “I don’t think it’s right that Jesus died for people. I love Jesus. He didn’t deserve it. He did everything right. He shouldn’t have died.”

Peter. Peter. Peter. I could almost hear Jesus admonishing, “Get behind me, Satan!” but in the context of my situation, that would have been cruel, so I just held Owen and gave him comfort.

Who can explain where belief comes from? Is it born from questioning and searching? Does it arrive in a rowboat when the Messiah asks you to feed his sheep?

All of us have our own journey. I can’t take Owen’s journey for him. I can only guide him along the way. This conversation his Sunday School teacher, his Children’s Minister, Matt, and I are having with Owen is a delicate dance. We all want him to come to faith in Jesus, but more than anything, I want him to have a faith that is his own.

Even though I cannot see it, I know that Jesus holds him with wounded hands. Just as he held Thomas and Peter. Just as he holds you and me.

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Rev. Melanie Kilby Storie lives in Shelby, NC with her pastor husband, Matt, and her two sons, Aidan and Owen. Currently a tutor at a local school, Melanie is finishing work on a novel, Wildwood Flower set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina about a girl who can talk the fire out of a burn.

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