...those who haven't seen...
Week 17, Day 2
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20.29
Poor Thomas. For 2000 years now he’s been getting a bad rap.
In the gospels he is always called “Thomas, the Twin”. But we know him only as Thomas, the Doubter. And ever since that first Easter evening anyone who finds it difficult to believe without hard, physical proof, has been labeled a “Doubting Thomas”.
Some of us wear that label proudly. We don't want to appear gullible. We think withholding judgment and standing our ground proves our intelligence and our nerve.
Some of us come by the label honestly. We just find it difficult to give our assent to things we can’t touch, taste and feel (like God, for instance).
And some of us are just lazy. Thinking can be hard work. Distinguishing the true from the false can require real effort; and we are often as likely to get it wrong as right. So, to save ourselves the effort and to avoid making a mistake, we play the doubt card.
Having said all that, there is one small detail in the Thomas story that makes the whole question of doubt and doubting nearly irrelevant—
Thomas, you see, was not a doubter.
The Greeks (whose language was used to write the New Testament) had a word for doubt—“distazo”. And even though the English word “doubt” appears in some English translations of this story (ours, for instance) the Greek “distazo” does not. That word is never used to describe Thomas.
John says Thomas is “apisteuo”—faithless, untrusting. When Jesus shows up that second Sunday after Easter and shows his scars to Thomas he says to him, “Don’t be ‘apisteuo’ (faithless, untrusting) be ‘pisteuo’ (faithful, trusting)” (John 20.27).
Now you may think this is a pointless quibbling over words. It’s not. Because this story isn’t about doubt. It’s about trust. It isn’t about certainty based on facts. It’s about holding a faithfulness that “includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” (1)
Thomas is not upbraided by Jesus for doubting the resurrection. Until they saw the scars in Jesus’ hands and side, everyone in that room doubted the resurrection.
Here’s the thing—what this story is about: You haven’t seen Jesus. Neither have I. You haven’t seen the scars on his hands—and you never will. Do you trust, anyway, that he is somehow—in some way, alive? That was the question for all the disciples in that room; and all of us today.
Faith, you see—as William Sloan Coffin has said, “is not believing without proof; faith is trusting without reservation.” That’s the call of this story.
Contrary to everything you may have thought, John is not asking us to believe the resurrection, or any other fact that is beyond proof. He’s asking us to trust God to be present in our moments of deepest questioning. Can you trust this story to be true, John is asking, even if you can’t believe it happened in just this way?
Blessedness is what is on offer here. As Jesus said to Thomas, “Happy, are those who have not seen, and yet have come to trust.”
Prayer: Blessings are yours to give, Faithful God; ours to receive. In our darkness give us light. In our discomfort grant us trust. Amen.
(1) Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”