Chapter 1: After Church — Sunday Morning

Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form
by John B. Cobb, Jr.

Chapter 1: After Church — Sunday Morning

Thomas Atherton was shaken. His life had always proceeded in an orderly way. He had made decisions carefully, and once he made them, he carried through despite setbacks and obstacles. But this time. . . .

He had made the decision as carefully and thoughtfully as usual. He and his wife, Mary, had prayed about it. This position as chaplain’s assistant at the regional university of his denomination had seemed an ideal way to meet the requirement for an internship during his seminary career. He had met Janet Levovsky, the chaplain, and he had liked her. She was warm and caring and generous with her time. His first month as a chaplain-intern had been rewarding.

But listening to her sermon this Sunday morning had confirmed a growing suspicion. Chaplain Levovsky was not a believing Christian! Hard as it was to see how this could be true, the denomination had placed in this important position a minister who did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. How could he do his internship under a supervisor who was not really a Christian at all? Would he have to ask for a new assignment? What a pain and hassle that would be! Would the seminary agree with his reasons? Was it already too late?

Thomas felt anger rising in him against the chaplain, but also against Prof. Smith, who handled placements at the seminary, and against the church and the university, too. It wasn’t fair to put a seminary student in such a position. And even worse, it was simply wrong to have the church represented on the university campus by such a person! But feeling the anger upset him all the more. It wasn’t right to be angry, especially not in church. The anger blotted out the love he knew he ought to feel even for those who had put him in this dilemma.

Mary noticed Thomas’s agitation. When the benediction had been pronounced she asked, “What’s the matter, Tom?”

Thomas started to brush off the question with an “Oh, nothing really!” but he thought better of it. He had relied on Mary’s understanding and counsel ever since they married after the junior year of college. Indeed, he depended on her in a lot of ways. They had struggled through the last year of college together, but he didn’t know how he could have gone to seminary at all if she hadn’t taken a full-time job as a secretary. This year, too, she was the chief breadwinner. He tried to help out at home, but she was the chief cook and housekeeper, too. And still she was interested in his studies and in what he thought! He thanked God daily for leading him to her.

Even so, he rarely talked with her about problems and uncertainties of a purely theological sort, partly because he loved her serene faith and didn’t want to disturb it. Partly, also, the problems didn’t seem very important. They would work themselves out, he felt sure, in the course of his studies. But this time, he realized, he was more upset than usual. He needed Mary’s reassurance and counsel.

“That sermon bothered me,” he answered. “It sounded as though Jesus were just another person very much like us, as if he were a child of God in just the same sense that we are. I don’t see how a Christian preacher can talk like that!”

“I guess there was a lot of emphasis on how human Jesus was,” Mary agreed, “but I don’t see why that should upset you. No preacher can say everything every Sunday. When I was growing up my Sunday school teachers often pictured Jesus as a very nice teacher who loved little children. But I’m sure they believed in his divinity. Maybe next Sunday Chaplain Levovsky will preach on Jesus’ divinity.”

“But we’ve been listening to her sermons ever since we came here for my internship five weeks ago,” Thomas complained, “and I never hear anything about Jesus’ divinity. I’m not at all sure she believes in it. I don’t see how I can go on working under her if she’s not even a Christian!”

By this time they had slipped out the side door to avoid speaking to Chaplain Levovsky and were well on their way home. Mary felt sure that Thomas was wrong. She was confident that all ministers believed in the divinity of Jesus. She had heard enough talk among the students at the seminary to know that they went through a lot of confusion and doubts as they studied the many different theologies. Some students, she thought, went too far — really left the Christian fold. But she was sure that most of them would get straightened out before they graduated. The others would drop out or, if they sought ordination, would be refused by the church. To be an ordained minister in a mainstream denomination certainly must mean that one is an orthodox believer! Finally she said, “Why don’t you talk with her about it? I’m sure you’ll feel better.”