Doubt and Faith

John 20:19-31

Have you ever had one moment – one isolated incident – that stuck you with a nickname?

I have a friend called “Dome.”  I’ve known him for twenty years.  Once, a just a few months before I met him, he shaved his head.  I don’t know whether the end result was particularly good or bad.  What’s clear is this:  his shaved noggin had a distinctly dome-like shape, made more prominent by a sunburn (if I remember the story right).  The details are hazy to me because it was an isolated incident; in all the time I’ve known him I’ve not once seen Dome’s dome without a full head of hair.  And yet, the nickname lives on.

Dome seems fond of his moniker, but not every nickname is a good one.  Sometimes the worse they are, the more they seem to stick.  Like this one, still being used after 2,000 years:

“Doubting Thomas.”

Poor Thomas.  He shows up a few minutes late and misses the Resurrected Jesus.  This is bad enough in and of itself.  It’s something akin to going to the restroom at dinner and missing a huge celebrity sighting:  “Aw, man, Taylor Swift was just here – look, she signed my napkin!”  But multiply that feeling of missing out by a thousand, because Thomas was out of the room when the Resurrected Jesus showed up.  I cannot imagine the disappointment.

And maybe some skepticism, too.  Are they all pulling his leg?  While Thomas just happened to be out, Jesus Christ himself appeared?  “C’mon now, guys – that’s not funny.  Are you being serious?”

And finally, maybe a reluctant:  “Well, okay – I’ll believe it when I see it.”

For this one line – his insistence in seeing (and touching) Jesus’ crucifixion wounds – Thomas gets such a bad rap.  But I don’t think he’s so off-base.  Adam Hamilton points out that one of the few consistencies between the four gospel accounts of Easter is a state of unbelief.  In every case – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – the women and the disciples are surprised to discover the tomb empty.  Apparently, this was not the expected outcome.  So who can blame Thomas for raising an eyebrow when his fellow disciples say, “Jesus was just here, raised from the dead!  The doors were locked but he got in somehow!  He even showed us his hands and his side!”

Thomas’ reaction seems perfectly reasonable to me:  “Well, okay – I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Yet his nickname lives on.  We call “Doubting Thomas” when someone lacks faith or as we roll our eyes at an annoying skeptic.  As Jesus told Thomas himself, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  This statement implies an opposite:  Unblessed are those (like Thomas) who have to see to believe.

If that’s true, I’m in trouble.

I have a doubting streak in me.  It appeared right along with my personal faith.  In my middle school years it seemed the more I tried to grasp the Christian faith as my own, the more I had questions about that same Christian faith.

I wanted very much to see something, to touch something – to have some tangible proof of God.  Remember how Gideon put out some wool, and if there was dew on it (and only it) the next morning then God would use him to save Israel (Judges 6:36-40)?  Gideon did that not once, but twice, and God gave the corresponding dew or lack thereof.  Is it too much to ask for a small miracle now and then?  Nothing outrageous – I’m talking a long-lost hairbrush reappearing in its drawer, something like that.

I know Jesus says that “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”…  But it’s really hard to believe without seeing.

Here’s the encouraging part of the story for me, as a doubter:  Thomas makes his declaration that he’s going to need to see and touch Jesus’ wounds before he believes it.  And then Jesus shows up eight days later.  Part of me wonders whether this was a planned visit all along, or perhaps the second person of the Trinity made a special pit stop just for Thomas.  Either way, when Jesus is there he doesn’t just show him his hands and his side – look but don’t touch! – but he takes it all the way:  “Put your finger here; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27).

Let’s set aside our 21st century sanitation codes for the moment (ew – did Thomas wash his hands first?) and focus on the grace Jesus is demonstrating.  Jesus is giving Thomas exactly what he asked for.  Sure, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  That is absolutely true.  But Thomas is not unblessed.  He is incredibly blessed; he has witnessed the risen Jesus.

“Doubting Thomases” of the world, hear this:  It took eight days – probably long days, doubt-filled days – before Jesus showed up in the upper room again.  But when he did, Thomas got what he asked for:  marks to see and wounds to touch.  I think that tells us that we can keep on “doubting” if it means we’re seeking signs of the risen Jesus.  They don’t come every day, but they do come:  A random act of kindness at exactly the right moment.  A strange feeling of peace in the midst of unrest.

CommunionAnd sometimes, there’s even something tangible, like a body that has been broken and blood that has been shed.  Bread you can touch and juice you can taste.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  This is true.  And largely, it’s us that Jesus is talking about; we were born thousands of years too late to get to see the resurrected Christ.  Most of the time, we must believe without seeing.  But today, we do see.  May we see and have faith.

It’s hard to say which moments in life will earn you a nickname that will stick.  Perhaps it will be this moment, right here at the Lord’s table.  And from now on, we’ll be called:

“Believers.”

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