I have great sympathy for Thomas, the disciple who was not with the others when Jesus appeared to them. He wanted to believe what the disciples were telling him – that they had seen their Lord. But he just couldn’t get a handle on this. It all sounded so implausible. It just didn’t make sense. The reality of what he had experienced was all too fresh in his mind.
There was the trial, and his Lord hanging on the cross. He had heard him cry, “It is finished,” and then he had seen the tomb where Christ’s body had been placed, with the stone rolled over the entrance. Now they are saying that he is alive. It is just too unbelievable. It certainly isn’t surprising to me that Thomas would want some physical proof? After all, the other disciples had proof. They had actually seen Jesus. So can you identify with Thomas’feelings when he says, “Unless, I can put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe?”
When we open our paper and read of child abuse cases, murders, wars and natural disasters; when we visit a skilled care facility and see old men sitting in wheel chairs by the nursing station, reaching out and calling, “Help me, help me;” or when we walk through a children’s cancer ward and see their pain and then look into the eyes of a mother who knows her two year old is going to do die, do we not also ask, "Why can't I see you, God?”
When my husband died, questions about God and heaven ceased to be academic. I wanted concrete answers more than anything else, and my questioning shook my faith. It took a year of soul searching for me to realize that faith can flourish in the presence of doubt. Both faith and doubt can co-exist, and both will pop up at unexpected moments.
It is unfortunate, indeed, when we are told by well-meaning believers that we must not ask questions. How do you manufacture faith if you are not allowed to persevere in your search for answers? We do a real disservice to those who are searching when we give glib answers to their sincere questions. If we are to have more than a shallow faith we must not be afraid of our questions, for questions lead to a search for the truth. If our faith is deepened, then doubt has done a good work, for it has helped us to persevere in our search for a satisfying belief.
I find it very comforting to know that Jesus was not too hard on Thomas for his doubts. In fact, he took his searching very seriously. Jesus understood his questions and willingly helped him overcome his uncertainty by inviting him to touch and see for himself so that he could experience Christ’s physical presence. Jesus gave him the proof he needed. His exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the cry of all who finally realize they are experiencing the presence of the living God. It is our expression of joy when we are ready to accept God’s Word and believe.
We may never have the physical proof Thomas received, as much as we would like such proof. Wanting answers does not mean that we can demand answers. Jesus goes on to say to Thomas, “Blessed are those who can believe without seeing.” There are some questions that will never be answered in this life. Faith is a choice, and it is not a common sense choice. In fact, faith is not supposed to make sense. When we live by faith we are willing to do the unthinkable, even though it may not be the smart thing when we think of the consequences.
I once read a story about an Anabaptist in the 16th century who had been imprisoned by the Spanish Catholics, but escaped out of a tiny window on a rope made of rags. Landing on the frozen pond along the side of the prison, he stepped gingerly on the ice. The months of starvation helped him reach the other side safely, when he heard a scream for help. One of the guards was following him, but as he took his third step on the ice, there was a crack and he fell into the icy water. The prisoner paused. Freedom was within reach. But he turned and, lying on his stomach, stretched out his arm to rescue the frozen guard. For gratitude, he was returned to his cell and later burned at the stake.
What this Christian did would not make sense to the world of skeptics, but the life of a skeptic is a double-minded life. Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters.” I believe that belief is better than unbelief. Without faith to give meaning and direction to our life we have nothing to hold on to when a marriage fails, a biopsy comes back positive, a son is committed to prison, or a daughter with a promising academic record gets pregnant at 16. Yet like Thomas, when I don’t see God working as I want him to, doubt creeps in. On those days when we are overcome with discouragement and anxiety it is faith that gives us the courage to carry on and to do the unthinkable. If we can sit quietly and let doubt make its case, God will come to us. He will light a spark of faith and bring us peace.
We may never have the proof of the physical presence of Jesus that Thomas experienced. But Jesus did leave us with the Holy Spirit – to touch us, speak to us, and to reveal his presence. Therefore we can say with Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!” and we can be at peace.