Want to do something that people really love? Commit an act of infamy.
It doesn’t have to be a mind-boggling evil. Something run-of-the-mill will do. It just needs to be simple, scandalous, and public knowledge.
Think Monica Lewinski.
Why? Infamy allows us the opportunity to hone one of our favorite skills: to shrink a 343-page life story down to a single paragraph that narrates what happened on one day, at a certain hour, and in a certain location. We can whittle an entire biography down to a single Tweet.
Then, with the authority invested in us by the state of self-righteousness, we proclaim, “This, and nothing else, is who you are.”
Just Ask Thomas
Just ask Thomas. Sorry, I mean Doubting Thomas. He’s the only guy from Genesis to Revelation who has an unfavorable adjective sticking out like a zit in front of his name.
We haven’t christened them Murdering Cain, Womanizing David, or even Betraying Judas. These other men have given us the gift of infamy as well, but we’ve spared them the title to go along with it.
For us, the defining moment for Thomas is in the upper room, when he protests that he won’t believe Jesus is alive again until he puts his fingers in the wounds. This is core Sunday School curriculum stuff.
But it is not the only story in which Thomas has a part to play.
Gravitating Toward the Scandalous
In John 11, when Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is sick, he informs his disciples they’re heading back into Judea to see him. But they protest, “Very bad idea, Jesus. Look, the Jews were just trying to stone you and now you want to return? That’s crazy talk.”
Jesus replies, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”
It appears, however, as if one person already did believe. Without a shred of doubt, without displaying an ounce of fear, in firm and full confidence of faith, one disciple speaks. And it’s our old friend, Thomas. He says to his brothers, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Did you even know that it was Thomas who said that? Now there’s a man with a backbone. There’s a man with conviction, courage, confidence. “Come on, fellows, don’t stand around with your hands in your pockets, hemming and hawing about what we should do. Look, if Jesus is going, I’m going. If he gets hurt, I get hurt. Let’s go, brothers, that we may die with our Lord.”
And yet, no one has dubbed him Courageous Thomas, Bold Thomas, or Believing Thomas. He is Doubting Thomas.
Why? @@We prefer to remember people by the scandalous things they've done.@@ We say, “That episode of doubting, Thomas, is who you are. That and nothing else.”
Lying Lori? Cheating Charlie? Pothead Paul?
Who are you? What adjective might people stick as a preface onto your name? Lying Lori, Cheating Charlie, Greedy George? Pothead Paul, Boozing Bob, Porno Paula?
Or are you the type that tacks a preface in front of your own name? Do you self-identify by the skeletons hidden in your closet? Do you sew onto your own clothing the scarlet letter of secret shame?
Let me tell you who Thomas really is. He is neither Doubting Thomas nor Believing Thomas. He is Thomas.
And more than that: he is Thomas, the son of our Father in heaven, the brother of Christ.
Jesus doesn’t not identify Thomas by his doubt or his faith, his bad works or his good works, his virtues or his vices. Jesus identifies Thomas by that man’s union with himself.
Rewriting Our Biographies
And so he does with us. We have died and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Who we are is subsumed into the biography of our Redeemer.
@@The Spirit rewrites our life stories in the crimson ink of Christ’s atoning blood.@@
All of us are more complicated than the singular narrative by which most people identity us. We have done very bad things, very good things, and plenty of cocktails of them both. Most people will remember only the bad.
So what? Let them. We have a God who remembers only the good. And the only good he remembers is the good that Christ has done for us, in us, and through us.
Who are we? I am Chad, the child of God. You are Paul or Bob, Cindy or Kathy, Thomas or Travis—all children of our Father, believing citizens of the kingdom of God, each of us birthed anew and bathed afresh in the waters of grace.
If we want to reduce our life story down to one adjective, if we want to whittle our biography down to a single word, then let it be this: Beloved.
My new book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, will be available October, 2017. You can read more about it and pre-order your copy at Amazon. Thank you!