I often feel I live with a posture of doubt, of mistrust, of fear. That’s not what I want to be known for, not the legacy I want to leave behind. Yet, these emotions boil to the surface and I feel myself morphing into that archetypal skeptic, the Doubting Thomas. I think Thomas and I might have a lot in common, and this makes me wonder if that nickname is fitting. If the story of my life was reduced to a few passages, what nickname might I carry for ages? Would I be known for my doubt? For my fear? Would that be a deserved name?
Thomas gets his nickname from a passage in John. After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples (John 20:19-23), but Thomas isn’t with the others when Jesus stands among them, shows them his hands and his side, and speaks directly to them. Thomas isn’t there to see, and to hear, and to feel for himself. Yet when he meets the others again after Jesus has left (John 20:24-25), he is the only one asked to believe the resurrection without proof. It only seems fair that his response would be, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
It’s eight days before Jesus appears to the disciples again. Eight days to cement Thomas’s reputation as the doubter and the skeptic. I can only imagine the conversations in those days. The pressures Thomas must have felt to just say, “Okay. Okay. I believe.” But when Jesus arrives, he doesn’t admonish Thomas’s disbelief, and he doesn’t chide him for being of little faith. No, Jesus simply comes and shows Thomas his hands, encourages Thomas to touch his side, and says, “No more disbelief. Belief.” Jesus meets Thomas’s doubt with the comfort and proof Thomas has asked for (John 20: 27).
But when Jesus stands before him, Thomas no longer needs to feel the wounds to believe. Instead, he jumps to the proclamation “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) and moves rapidly from a place of skepticism and doubt to a place of full belief.
So why have we singled Thomas out as the doubter? The rest of the twelve did not believe until they saw. Furthermore, for Mary Magdalene even sight wasn’t enough. She saw Jesus and did not recognize him (John. 20:11-18). It was not until he called her by her own name (John. 20:16) that she recognized Jesus. No one, it seems, in these early accounts believes without proof.
When at the end of his encounter with Thomas Jesus says, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe” (John 20:29), Jesus is not just speaking to Thomas but to all of his disciples present, to all who have had the luxury to see, and to feel, and to hear. The second part of his statement, however, is speaking toward the future. Jesus is speaking beyond those few present to breathe a blessing for those of us that will have to base our belief on something much less visceral.
“Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
We won’t see Jesus in the here and now. We can’t touch his side or hear his voice. We don’t see. So perhaps this life is a journey to believe the unseen, a journey to find that happiness. And perhaps, like Thomas, we cannot arrive at belief until we are courageous enough to lean into the tension of disbelief and abide with our doubts.
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