There is a fine point between cynicism and skepticism. There is also a fine point between going forward in a faith community with an engaged mind with critical thinking in the Drive gear and being too passive with ones mind on Neutral.
In is is my bias, since I do not believe in true spiritual seeking as an objective experience: to be a fully informed Christian is to engage all senses of the person including the intellect. If someone tries to sell you a Christianity that allows no questioning, do not walk for the door—- run! Below is an example of Jesus having a healthy attitude to skepticism. Too often those that are on a spiritual journey overlook the power of questions but here Jesus obviously does not.
The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51).
Phillip was dedicated to Jesus by the time he approaches Nathaniel. When he approaches him he communicates on what they knew were their signs of hope in what Moses and the prophets to say. He uses a common faith shorthand to communicate the historical context and momentum that is realized in Jesus. This is and infuse faith and culture perspective.
But Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He hears of the deposit of faith context, actual name and cultural context of a backwater town that seems to simple for any far reaching consequence but focuses only on the last one. He was likely a spiritual seeker to begin with or Philip would not have approached him right away. But my above statement rings true in how there can be subjectivity, a bias, that the seeker brings in applying the critical mind to a spiritual picture. His emphasis was on how God would bring out greatness from what is already impressive. But the beauty of the pattern of Jesus who is God made flesh (John 1:1, 14) is that he dwelled among us in intentional community. This especially needed to be a footprint without a flashy context or faith would be too easy. I would say to Nathanael that when faith comes too easy it is “easy come, easy go”.
Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him—- This is a turning point. Jesus respect Nathanael’s response even in his error. A true Israelite would be embedded in the highlights of salvation history and Nazareth was not one of them. Though there is presumption or conjecture in Nathanael’s doubt there is a single-mindedness on the God of his understanding having continuity in patterns of his understanding and thus a good loyalty. Where I might see him as a glass half empty Jesus sees him as a glass half full and able to work with him.
You will see greater things than this—- Jesus brings context that his supernatural knowledge of the spiritual and physical location of Nathanael is only one piece of all in God’s kingdom that would be accomplished. By speaking of angels Jesus is making reference to something even larger than Israel since being the “King of Israel” is not the end for Jesus. This reference of angels ascending and descending goes to a worldwide promise of God’s kingdom.
Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Genesis 28: 12-14).
Jesus speaks in shorthand to Nathanael that he appreciates his contextual thinking, knows his bias and is countering to emphasize that our individual journeys can have meaning only if we remember that God’s grace is for everyone. Our personal conversions are to draw us to dwell in fellowship eventually to a worldwide fellowship that engages in God’s grace.
And where is this evident in the passage? It is in Philip that we see an important lesson in the invitation. He responds to the challenge of his friend with “Come and see”. But this is not the first time we see that phrase in the Bible or even that same chapter. It was from the prior day after Jesus is baptized.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (John 1:38).
Philip was only extending the invitation of Jesus. Jesus promised in the context of making disciples and baptizing them in the Trinitarian formula (Matthew 28:20) that he would be with us to the end of the age. How deeply he will do that is up to us as we are healthy in skepticism and openness to blessing to the world.