376) Are You ‘Good at Religion’? (part one of two)

     There IQ tests to measure your intelligence quotient, which is how you compare to others in the ability to think and comprehend and figure things out.  There is also something called an EQ test to measure your emotional quotient, which is how you compare to others in a wide range of emotional responses such as compassion, contentment, love, envy, and anger.  A while back I read about a psychiatrist who is working on a test to measure your spiritual quotient (SQ).  His idea is that some people are ‘better’ at religion and spiritual matters than other people.  Just as some people seem to have a knack for music, this psychiatrist believes some people have a knack for religion.  On his test he asks questions like, “How often do you pray?  Do you feel like praying or do you have to discipline yourself to do so?  How often do you find yourself thinking about God?  Do you think about God when you are in trouble or when you have to make an important decision?”

     I think there are all kinds of problems with that approach, but the idea does raise some interesting questions.  How would you score on such a test?

     I sometimes meet people who say things like, “I’m not very religious, and I’m not active in any church, but I do consider myself very spiritual.”  What they probably mean is that though their life is devoid of religious disciplines and practices, and though they are not committed to any particular church institution, they do have an interest in spiritual matters, a fascination with things of the Spirit, and an openness to God and faith.

     On the other hand, there are those who for some reason have a connection to a church, but don’t, as the psychiatrist would say, have much of ‘a knack for religion.’  For example, I knew of a woman who had a daughter whose participation in the church youth group had been a positive influence in her life.  Out of gratitude this mother did volunteer work with the church food shelf.  She spent many hours serving in that way, but she never once went to Sunday morning worship.  When the pastor asked her about this, she replied, “Oh, I’m just not very good at that sort of thing.  I can’t see the point of it.  Other people seem to enjoy the music, and the sermons, and all the rest, but I confess that I just don’t get it.  I’m not good at religion.”  What?  Not good at religion?  This is the kind of woman that psychiatrist would want for his test.  She would probably have a very low SQ, just as he would expect.

     But this is not how I am used to approaching the question.  I never think of religion as something I have to ‘get’ or ‘be good at.’  Religion, or as Christians would rather say, faith, is a gift of God who loves us freely.  But perhaps it is easier for some people to receive faith than others.

     Take Thomas, for example, ‘Doubting Thomas’ as he has come to be known– the disciple whose story is told in John 20:24-29.  Faith wasn’t easy for him.  The other disciples had seen the risen Lord Jesus, back from the dead, but Thomas had missed it.  And even with his ten best friends telling him that Jesus was alive, he would not believe it unless he saw him for myself, he said, and ‘see the nail marks on his hands and feet and put my hand on his wounds.’  Earlier in that same chapter, John had believed without seeing.  He had heard from the women that the tomb was empty, so he went to see for himself.  Jesus was not there, and even though John had not yet seen Jesus, he did see that the tomb was empty, and that was enough for him.  Verse eight says he saw and believed.  It must have been easy for him, because at that point, there were still other possible explanations– somebody may have just moved the body.  Peter also saw the empty tomb, and he seemed to take a more cautious approach.  It does not say that he believed yet, like John, but neither did he say like Thomas, ‘I will not believe.’  Peter, says the text, ‘wondered about it.’  But John saw only an empty tomb and believed.  Easy for him, but not easy for Thomas.  Thomas would have scored low on that psychiatrist’s spiritual quotient test.

     Yet, Thomas did come to faith.  Jesus soon appeared to him also, and gave him the proof he needed.  In verse 27 Jesus said to him, ‘See my hands?  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Stop doubting and believe.’  Thomas did believe, and according to early accounts, Thomas went farther out to the ends of the earth than any of the disciples, going all the way to the Southern tip of India with the message that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.  The old doubter, once convinced, must have become very persuasive himself, because the Christian community he is credited with establishing in South India is still going strong today. (…continued…)

Doubting Thomas, Caravaggio (1571-1610)

The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulcher on the Morning of the Resurrection

Eugene Burnand (1850-1921)


John 20:24-29  —  Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Lord Jesus, you have said, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”  In accordance with this promise, we therefore ask that you give us not silver or gold, but a strong and firm faith.  As we seek, let us find not the lusts and pleasures of this world, but comfort and peace in your healing Word.  As we knock, may the door be opened unto us.  Grant us your Holy Spirit to enlighten our hearts, and, to comfort and strengthen us in our cares and trials.  Keep us in the one true faith so that we may trust in your grace until the end.  Amen.  –Martin Luther