Poor Thomas. He’s been dubbed the “Doubter” for nearly two thousand years.
His story is so commonplace by now, one barely needs to retell it: On Easter day, Jesus appeared to his disciples. Thomas was not around for the big event, so when the disciples told Thomas that Jesus had defied death and was alive and well, he said that he needed to see Jesus for himself.
Thus, the apparent doubt. Who wouldn’t doubt a far-fetched tale as this one? Jesus was alive? From the dead? Wounds and all? With the grief and terror overshadowing the torturous crucifixion event, one must wonder what sick game the disciples were trying to pull anyway.
As the story goes, the disciples gathered again the following week. This time, Thomas made certain he was present. Sure enough, Jesus appeared out of thin air.
This time, Jesus called Thomas by name; and not only did he show Thomas the wounds on his hands and feet, he told Thomas to touch them. Thomas responded with a memorable affirmation of faith, “My Lord and my God!”
I must admit, Thomas’ legacy of being the Doubter of all Doubters always gave me some sense of peace. I too am a perpetual doubter–a skeptic by nature who always needs to “see it to believe it.”
I was the one in my group of friends who always demanded that any logic or rational had to hold up in a court of law or to some empirical standard. I was always the one who prayed, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Doubting Thomas taught me that Jesus makes plenty of room for folks like him and me.
Yet, the more I look at this text, the more, well, doubtful, I become that Thomas really deserves his well-worn moniker. I’m not convinced that he doubted Jesus’ appearance as much as we all assume.
Never once did he tell the disciples that he did not believe them; rather, Thomas did something that defied doubt–he courageously demanded to experience the Risen Christ for himself.
Thomas was not content with simply hearing about Christ, he wanted to know Christ was alive and touch him, even if only for the last time. Think about it: How many of us would give everything we have to touch a loved one who has passed on?
Thomas reminds us that an authentic faith–one that sustains us through doubt and crisis–is one built upon a direct relationship with Jesus.
When I was in college working on my religion degree, I realized just how much of my faith was built upon the religious convictions of my parents and my church. I heard a lot about Jesus; I knew about Jesus. I made it my vocation to study the stories about Jesus.
But did I know Jesus for myself? Did I take ownership of that relationship and wrestle with God on my own terms rather than on the terms imposed upon me by my religious tradition? Was Jesus “my Lord” as much as he was my parents’ Lord?
As I began to take ownership of that relationship, I realized that the faith I was gaining was unique and vibrant. It was a type of faith that did not require an answer to every puzzle; it was a type of faith that made as much room for God’s mystery as God had made for my doubts.
Christians are called “witnesses” because they bear testimony to their unique experiences with the Risen Christ. Just as hearsay is inadmissible in a court of law, so too is an indirect faith inadequate for a personal relationship with Jesus.
No one else can do faith for us; only we can choose to let Christ into our hearts.