We don’t just call him Thomas; we call him Doubting Thomas. Why he, of all the apostles, had an insult attached to his name, I don’t know. Peter denied Christ three times, but no one calls him Denying Peter. Even Judas, who committed treason against Jesus, is not given the epithet Betraying Judas. But poor Thomas cannot rest in peace as just Thomas. No, he is Doubting Thomas, forever branded.
I do not deny that Thomas doubted. That much is certain. He did, and with great gusto! He wasn’t there with his fellow disciples when Jesus appeared to them that first Easter evening. When they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replies, “Unless I see in His hand the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hands into His side, I will not believe.” He demands visible, tangible proof before he’ll budge a fraction of an inch. He is pig-headed, recalcitrant, a mule of a man. A dyed-in-the-wool skeptic.
And for all that Thomas is, I am thankful. Thank God for the man who doubted Easter.
Yes, for his pig-headedness, for his doubt, for his denial, for his dyed-in-the-wool skepticism – for all that, I thank God. Why? Because, as St. Gregory put it, “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe, than the faith of the disciples who believed.” I thank God that Thomas doubted, for when he later “touched the wounds in the flesh of his master, he healed in us the wounds of our unbelief.”
What was Thomas’s hang-up? He wanted something “real,” something you can sink you teeth into—or, rather, in his case, something you can sink you finger into, like that hole left by a crucifixion nail. He had seen the blood drip from Jesus’ dying body; he had seen the steel penetrate that body; he had seen the wood smeared crimson; he had seen the stone rolled in front of the tomb. He had seen it all. And for Thomas, seeing is believing.
There’s only one problem: believing is not seeing. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, faith is believing the exact opposite of what you see, for that is how God reveals Himself to us.
God always wears a disguise. Jesus looks like a man, lives like a man, dies like a mere man. Yet faith says, “Jesus is God.” You do your daily work, you sweat, you put up with rude customers, you deal with unruly students, you do the ho-hum work of the daily grind. Yet faith says, “My labor is holy, divine work, for I am God’s tool that He uses to take care of others.” Yet you get sick, you lose weight, you hurt, you cry, you wonder how long you can last. Yet your faith says, “I am a blessed child of God, well-pleasing to Him, and I will live forever in Christ.”
Believing is not seeing. To believe is to confess that God is where God seems not to be, to confess that God is good when God seems to be bad, to confess that what is really real is the God hiding behind the exact opposite of what you see. That is faith.
And that is why faith is a gift. Because you can’t do it.
Like Thomas, we deem these things to be real: a freshly dug grave at the cemetery; a bank account fizzled to near nothing; a child who just won’t listen; a spouse who doesn’t care; peers who mock; friends who betray; a conscience that won’t shut up; a job that doesn’t satisfy; a sickness that grows stronger and more vicious day by day. Those are the things we consider real, as real evidence that God is holding out on us, is mad at us, doesn’t love us as much for us as He does for others.
Thomas was as we are. Yet Christ doesn’t appear and slap him for his doubt; He holds out His scarred hand for Thomas to see. “Reach here your finger,” He says, “and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” @@Thomas reads like braille the scarred message of love inscribed on the Savior’s skin.@@ He believes. He sees with the eyes of faith who Jesus really is, “My Lord and my God.”
That is the way of our Lord, the way of grace. He doesn’t abandon Thomas to drown in a sea of doubt. He stretches out His nail-scarred hands and pulls him in. And so He does for you.
He takes your doubts and your fears and your shame and your bitterness and He makes them His own. And He takes His faith and His hope and His life and His joy and His glory and He makes them your own. He doesn’t remove your outward troubles; He gives you something better: inward peace. He may leave in place your dysfunctional family, your disease, your addiction, your pain, but He will not leave in place a heart empty of peace.
That’s what He’s all about: giving to you the peace that passes understanding, the kind of peace that knows that no matter how unfaithful you have been, God will never be unfaithful to you. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love is always greater. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how bad this world may get at times, any suffering here is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. That’s the kind of peace Christ gives: peace of heart when surrounded by ten thousand enemies.
Along with Thomas, we know these things to be really real: the mercy of the Father, who never denies His baptized children; the love of Christ given and shed for you in body and blood; and the grace of the Holy Spirit, who gives you the peace that passes all understanding.
*I am indebted to the hymn by Thomas Troeger, "These Things Did Thomas Count as Real" for much of the imagery in this meditation.