Seeing Past the Labels

We are more complex than the labels we depend on to try to quantify our qualities. We call ourselves things and we call other people things in an effort to package and control the human variable. Most of the time, we look at the obvious and immediate at the expense of the hidden and eternal.

When I was practicing criminal defense law, I would not have been an effective advocate if I had decided to label each client with the crime they were accused of. Even if the labels were attached following a conviction or confession, I would be missing the opportunity to see the person and agree with their design. They weren’t designed to be a criminal; their intention was hijacked somewhere along the way.

Seeing the person afforded the opportunity to speak about the person in agreement with who they are; not based on what they had done. That was true of the accused and it is true of the less obvious accusations more common to day-to-day  life. There are people every day who, on the surface, are “wrong” in various forms. Yet, even if accurate assessments of justice, grace calls us to look beyond the flaws and into the design.

There is a character in Scripture that we have labeled as “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus was resurrected, Thomas says he won’t believe the resurrection of Jesus unless he is able to touch the wounds of the resurrected body of Jesus. So Jesus presents Himself in John 20 and meets Thomas right where his lack of had him stalled. That’s grace.

Interestingly, in John 11 the same man operated with a different label. He was traveling with Jesus as they heard of the death of Lazarus and Jesus decided to go to where Lazarus was. It was pointed out that this was the same place where people had tried to stone Jesus and would likely try again. This was dangerous and anyone with Jesus could lose their life, too.

The reaction of Thomas, however, was different from the label he gets in chapter 20. Thomas says, “let’s go with Him, so we can die, too.”

Maybe figuring Thomas out isn’t so easy. Is he doubting or courageous? Yes. Depends on the day; just like it does for any of us.

There are things we do that we are working out. Sometimes we are doubting and sometimes we are courageous. Neither necessarily affords us a title; both reflect the working out of our identity through a soul that wrestles with the eternal nature of God’s Spirit. Both require grace.

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