Contributed by Bill King, Blacksburg, VA
Share a time when you were absolutely certain something was true—only to discover that it was not.
Can you beat a lie detector test? Is a dirty car more fuel efficient than a clean one? Do jawbreakers explode when you put them in a microwave? Is it possible for baby alligators flushed down the toilet to prowl the sewers of New York City? Can you save lost data on a hard drive by putting it in the freezer? If you have an itch to answer any of these questions then you have probably discovered Mythbusters, the popular show on the Discovery Channel. Nominated for an Emmy and hosted by the jauntily bereted Jamie Hyneman and “stuff maker” Adam Savage, Mythbusters scientifically tests urban myths, outrageous propositions, and conventional wisdom. The show has a particular fondness for myths which involve explosions, making a mess, or disgusting materials (they made a candle out of ear wax). Some have called it “the best science show on television,” and few would dispute that it is the zaniest. The show sometimes does silly things, like constructing a lead balloon, just to see if it can be done. But beneath the laughter is a serious purpose, to illustrate how science separates fact from fiction.
- Do you always trust science to determine what is true and what is false?
- There is strong consensus among scientists that climate change is occurring (though less agreement on the role which human interaction plays), yet some polls suggest that 50 per cent or more of Americans doubt that consensus. What factors other than science affect how we believe and act?
- Do you believe science is the best or only path to truth? What are its limits?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 1, 2011 (Second Sunday of Easter)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Thomas usually gets a raw deal. Don’t believe it? Play a little game with me. Fill in the blank: _______ Thomas. You plugged in “doubting” didn’t you? For almost 2000 years Thomas has been the poster boy for skepticism, the guy who brought a dill pickle and a soggy blanket to the post-resurrection picnic. Everyone else was happy to see Jesus, excited to imagine what might be coming next. We remember Thomas as the one who refused to join the celebration—or even believe his buddies. If he didn’t see it, he wasn’t buying it.
Maybe we need to rethink our view of Thomas. Rather than the poster child of cynical skepticism, perhaps he’s the brutally honest spokesman of wounded and searching young adults. It’s not that Thomas is any less eager to believe than the rest of the disciples; he just isn’t willing to give his passion for a pocket full of promises which prove false when put to the test. He’s seen the corruption of the religious and political establishment, the way they manipulate people and their prejudices in the name of noble sounding piety and patriotism. He’s seen the cruelty the rich and powerful inflict on Him whose only crime is proclaiming God’s love. Most of all, he’s seen his hopes dashed on Good Friday. In the words of the of the classic rock anthem, he “won’t get fooled again.”
There is much to love about Thomas. When Jesus returned to raise Lazarus from the tomb, Thomas told the disciples their place was with Jesus, even if it meant death. It was Thomas who admitted that he did not know where Jesus was going (John 14:3-6) and therefore could not follow—never afraid to look dumb if it meant learning more. Not easily persuaded, but loyal to a fault when he finally makes a decision; yes, there is much to admire in Thomas.
Evidently John the Evangelist thinks so too. He gives this supposed doubter the most sweeping confession of faith in his gospel, “My Lord and my God.” Too often we can make people who are asking hard questions feel as though there is something wrong with them, implying that if they just believe hard enough and sing the happy choruses with enough gusto, all the doubts and all the awkward questions will just go away. That’s unfortunate because Scripture most assuredly does not agree. Jesus treats this hard-eyed realist with gentleness and concern. I imagine Jesus looking at Thomas and thinking, “Oak isn’t easy to cut and form, but once you do, you know you’ve got something that’ll last for the long haul.” Thomas reminds us that mature faith is hard won, but always worth struggling for because it leads us to the one who says, “Do not be faithless but believing.”
- Do you identify with Thomas? How?
- What is the greatest doubt you feel regarding your religious faith?
- Why do you think John includes the post-resurrection story of Thomas in his gospel?
Everything You Wanted to Know About God—But Were Afraid to Ask: Invite everyone in the group to write down one or more questions related to religious faith and practice. These can range from questions of idle curiosity to ones of deep concern. Put them all in a box. When they are all assembled you can use them in several ways; pick the one (or combination) that works best for you:
- Invite the pastor or youth leader to respond to the questions. This is particularly appropriate if the answer requires some research or technical knowledge.
- Pull out a question and use it as a conversation starter. Particularly with questions which have no easy answer it is important to affirm the questioning process, in addition to bringing some of the tradition’s resources to bear in forming a response.
God of truth and compassion, in Jesus you dealt gently with those who sincerely sought to follow you. In the midst of our doubts give us your light, in the midst of our fears, give us courage. When we struggle to believe, draw near and help us remember we are your own, beloved heirs of your resurrection. Amen.