Summary: Using Thomas as an example of resurrected faith overcoming blinding doubt
I know we all have heard about Thomas. “Doubting Thomas;” poor ole doubting Thomas. The guy has caught grief for 2000 years and my guess is that he will catch grief for the next 2000 years – or until the Lord returns. To be honest, I feel for the guy. Our tradition has singled him out as having an inferior faith because he actually expressed his doubt in the resurrection. He made his reservations known out-loud. And because of that he has the dubious distinction of being the poster child for skepticism. But you know what is even worse for ole Thomas is that most people know what a “Doubting Thomas” is even if they have never heard this biblical story. His name is simply synonymous with doubt. All you have to do is pick up a Webster’s Dictionary and there it is. Actually, it is in two places: under “d” for doubt and under “t” for Thomas. According to Webster the definition for a “doubting Thomas” is a habitually doubtful person. Habitually?! Goodness, we don’t know a whole lot about Thomas, but the only time – the only time – we see his doubtful side is in this story. So, I think ’habitually’ might be overstating the case just a little bit.
But in any case, we still are left with a man who appears to have a crack in his wall of faith through which a little doubt is oozing out. And can you really blame him? What he is asked to accept is fantastic. And keep in mind he is hearing about the resurrection second hand. The other disciples had the advantage of seeing Jesus in person a few days prior. So, for Thomas, not having had the encounter with the risen Lord, this tale being spun by the delirious disciples is a bit unbelievable. Even for us who have the benefit of knowing the end of the story, this seems unreal. I mean it is not every day that we hear about folks rising from the dead. In fact, I think I would go out on a limb and say that it is a fairly rare event.
So, Thomas, having heard the news that the disciples saw Jesus alive, was understandable skeptical. Put yourself in Thomas’ shoes for a minute. Just like Thomas, pretend that you have never heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection. And one day, after having attended a funeral for a friend, someone comes up to you and says excitedly, “You’ll never guess who I saw at Winn Dixie today. She looks great! Heck, to look at her, you’d never guess that she died last week.”
Think how you would react to that. I think my first concern would be for this person’s emotional well-being. My second thought would be that whoever my friend saw must obviously bear a striking resemblance to my deceased friend. The idea that someone would be walking around after having died the previous week is so far beyond the realm of possibility that I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of it. And my guess is that not many of you would either. And yet, we somehow expect Thomas to accept this news in a matter-of-fact way; like this was no surprise at all.
Poor ole Thomas has the become the scapegoat for the church which sometimes says that doubt is wrong; or that it is somehow less than faithful to need a sign, or a touch, or a vision, or a personal encounter. We get the impression that we are not allowed to ask the hard questions without being labeled a cynic, or a skeptic, or a liberal. Since when are questions bad? Since when is it wrong to admit that we don’t understand everything? Since when is it wrong to ask God to clarify something? Read the account of Job, or the Psalms. Both are filled with uncertainties, complaints, and questions of God. Even Jesus while hanging on the cross cried out to God, “Eli, Eli, Lema Sebacchtini – My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Thomas is just one in a long line of faithful people who have raised their voices to ask the hard yet faithful questions.
Folks, faith lies in conversation. I guess what I am saying is that faith is really what prompts the conversation. Faith is when we are willing to embrace the doubts, ask the questions, and face the answers. Faith is believing in something that is beyond our ability to comprehend it, but it is not afraid to try.
I think this story is a testimony to the difficulty of faith – how hard it is to believe. Faith takes work, because it puts us in uncomfortable places and begs us to ask tough questions. I also think this story validates our need for God’s touch. It says that it is okay for us to ask questions of God and… to wish for a personal encounter. There is nothing cut-and-dried about the Christian faith. It cannot be reduced to a set of rules, where everything fits, where everything makes sense, where all we have to do is to connect the dots. That is the kind of thing the Pharisees tried to do. They tried to explain everything in a formula; to make all of life so that it could be answered by a set of rules. And if it didn’t fit within that set of rules they rejected it as heresy or blasphemy. And consequently, their hearts were closed to the renewing of Christ simply because he didn’t meet the criteria. Their unwillingness to look "outside the box" blinded thems to the miracle of Jesus Christ who stood in their presence.