Unless I see in His hands… St. Thomas
“If life doesn’t break your heart at least once a day, that shows a real lack of imagination.” ~ Garrison Keillor
Back in the summer of 2013 my church in the Pacific Northwest gave me a month sabbatical and I hiked the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. When you hike the trail for a few hundred miles like I did, you begin to meet the same people at campgrounds and watering holes. Often when you introduce yourself you will hear them say their “trail name.” Names like “The Bee Man” or “Two Shoes” or “Sweet Jesus.”
One evening when a few of us were drinking hot drinks and swapping trail stories, a retired cop from L.A., who could do an incredible impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger and had acquired the trail name “Kindergarten Cop”, asked me what I did away from the trail.
When I told him I was a pastor he started calling me “The Rev.”
Not my favorite idea for a trail name, but better than the one “Two Shoes” tried to give me. “Two Shoes” got her trail name by wearing one shoe on her left foot that was a different brand from the shoe on her right foot. When she heard me spout off in my typically snarky way about someone’s behavior and then also discovered that I was a minister, she pronounced me “The Judge.”
So, take your pick: The Rev or The Judge.
Maybe you acquired an unfortunate nick name that stuck with you longer than you would have preferred. That is probably true of Thomas and he hasn’t shaken that name in two millennia. You don’t have to be a student of scripture to be familiar with that name. Doubting Thomas has worked it’s way into our culture. You can even look it up in the urban dictionary and find an entry for him.
Doubt is normal. And honest doubts are part of faith. I would much rather talk to somebody honestly who was struggling with their faith than listen to somebody who was deceiving themselves. The Victorian cure for doubt was to avoid too much inquiry. Charles Kingsley is said to have cautioned his wife about her doubt by saying, “Think little and read less.”
But this is not to deal with doubt, it is rather to consign our faith to ignorance in the search of illusive bliss.
“He that never doubted scarce ever well believed,” wrote the poet William Austen.
I am not pretending that doubt is a wonderful thing, it is not. It can paralyze us and prevent us from serving God or worshipping him. Yet every servant of God has had doubts, and it might seem that they are indeed a prerequisite for those whose seek to be honest before God.
Think of Moses, I cannot do this God, I cannot speak. Think of Jeremiah, struggling with the doubts which characterize the deeply depressed. Think of John the Baptizer, who asked Jesus, “Are you The One or should we wait for another?” Think of Peter who had a life which seemed characterized by dreadful times of doubt, which led him to deny Jesus three times.
Yet it is in doubt and the process of dealing with doubts that we grow and mature in our faith. Doubts and faith are twins. The opposite of faith is not doubts; the opposite of faith, is unbelief.
All of us have doubts, sooner or later.
I like what the late Dallas Willard said, God appreciates our honest questions. They give Him something solid to work with.
Here is what leads Thomas through his own doubts into faith. He’s doing his due diligence by doubting his doubts. He does not say, “I will not believe. End of story.” Nor does he say, “I will not believe based on the behaviors of those who say they follow Him. I mean, look at Peter. What a loser. And James? where was James? And don’t even get me started about Judas! Not a single one of you guys stood strong when the going got tough.”
He examines the evidence for himself and says, “Unless I see…unless I touch….”
Honestly, many people today see no point for having faith in God. Only the weak need God, they reason. If they don’t have a weakness (addiction) or a deep and existential longing that keeps them restless and up at night, then they don’t they need God. And because they have no deep longing or need, that must mean that there is no God that could possibly hold them accountable for their life and beliefs.
That is a faith claim. That is a belief. That is a leap of faith.
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
For years when I would read that I thought it was a strange response. Here is Jesus showing up for Thomas giving him what he asks for and then shaming him for asking for it.
Seems like Jesus is saying, “Here look at the wounds. How dare you look at the wounds.”
Is it possible that something else is going on here? It may be that what is happening is that Jesus is breaking the Fourth Wall. Do you know what that term means? It is from the theater. When an actor is involved with the dialogue and action of the script, but then at some point he or she turns and addresses the audience directly.
I think that something like that is happening here. I don’t think Jesus is shaming Thomas at all. He shows up for Thomas and says, ‘You believe because you have seen Me.”
And then Jesus turns to us, the audience, and says, “Blessed are you, you who (are not standing in this room and are not smelling the burial spices lingering on my clothes; you who are not looking at the jagged holes in my hands and side,) who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We are blessed indeed.
And so, dear friend, may you doubt your doubts and follow those doubts to the living Lord so that you may hear a heavenly voice speak into your heart your new trail name, “Beloved of God.”