“You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 21:29).
After a week of celebrating the joy of the Resurrection we come to Thomas Sunday. But why doubting Thomas ? Why now? Undoubtedly, excuse the pun, this falls within a series of Gospels bearing testimony to the Resurrection of Christ. The Church brings up the example of “doubting Thomas” as an example of being led to sure faith through doubt.
We have this disciple. one of Jesus’ closest followers, a man who spent at least three years in his company, a man who saw miracles and wonders, who despite all this still doubts the Resurrection. He has to see it for himself. He has to touch Christ’s body and and to feel the marks of the nails on that body.
Of course, there can be good doubt and bad doubt.
Good doubt when you find something hard to believe because it seems unlikely. This kind of doubt asks questions, seeking information to be convinced otherwise. It is a doubt that is open to questioning and changing one’s viewpoint based on evidence.
Then there’s bad doubt, a lack of faith, where you dismiss something completely out of hand because you are simply ill inclined toward something that you fail to even begin to understand, nor do you particularly want to understand it.
One sees this kind of absolute doubt and rejection in people who adamantly reject every religion or sense of the spiritual and dismiss it completely out of hand without a second thought. Their minds are made up. Too often they are stuck in their convictions, set up straw men and absolutely refuse to consider why someone might believe in something us utterly ridiculous as the Resurrection.
In this kind of absolute doubt you see a kind of conceit, arrogance and even selfishness. It brings everything down to the same level, rejects everything, and gives priority to the individual and the ego and not much else. It is enough that they are right and all these religious nutters are wrong. Some have the same dismissive attitude to modern science, they doubt the evidence placed before them, whatever it is and insist on living in the dark. In the case of climate change deniers, that might literally be true.
Today’s Gospel reading refers to the good kind of doubt. Where Thomas, a man with good intentions, seeks more evidence in order to believe what it difficult to believe because he has never heard of this before. He has no real knowledge that such a thing might be possible.
Yet the Church holds up “Doubting” Thomas as an example to us all. It offers us hope, comfort and encouragement when we too find ourselves in the position of Thomas, doubting, wanting more evidence. Wishing something were true but not sure.
Francis Spufford describes this well in his recent book, Unapologetic
“You ask for help and you get nothing: on a conscious level you may have decided that there was nobody there to help, but less consciously, since you did ask, it feels as if help was denied. Hence the angry edge that sometimes sharpens disbelief when it’s been renewed by one of these episodes of fruitless asking. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “He doesn’t exist, the bastard!” The life of faith has just as many he-doesn’t-exist-the-bastard moments as the life of disbelief. Probably more of them, if anything, given that we believers tend to return to the subject more often, producing many more opportunities to be disappointed”
He then goes on to argue: “Follow me closely now: whether God exists or not is unprovable, so for an individual person, whether He exists or not is always going to be a matter of belief.” He then goes on to examine the nature of this belief. It is a densely written book, and at times a little turgid, but ultimately comes down to the world is a much better place for having God in it.
“Starting to believe in God is a lot like falling in love, and there is certainly a biochemical basis for that. Cocktails of happy hormones make you gooey and trusting; floods of neurotransmitters make your thoughts skip elatedly along. Does this prove that the person you love is imaginary? It does not. The most the physical accounts demonstrate, where God is concerned, is that He isn’t necessary as an explanation. Which I feel does not really amount to news. I kind of knew that anyway, my philosophical starting-point for all this being that we don’t need God to explain any material aspect of the universe, including our mental states; while conversely, no material fact about the universe is ever going to decide for us whether He exists. God’s non-necessity in explanations is a given, for me. For me, it means that I’m only ever going to get to faith by some process quite separate from proof and disproof; that I’m only going to arrive at it because, in some way that it is not in the power of evidence to rebut, it feels right.”
Thomas, is given to us as an example of positive belief. If one of the apostles of Christ who experienced so many miracles by Christ, first hand, went so far as to deny the Resurrection and the divinity of Christ, it is also possible that some of us, after two thousand years, who have had no direct personal experience of Chris would also have doubts, would also explore unbelief.
Tough times test our faith. But often within these doubts, through patience, prayer and spiritual guidance within the Church we come to see God in these darkest moments and our faith is strengthened.
As Spufford puts it, “We say: all is not well with the world, but at least God is here in it, with us. We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story… We don’t ask for a creator who can explain Himself. We ask for a friend in time of grief, a true judge in time of perplexity, a wider hope than we can manage in time of despair.”
The example of St. Thomas can bring comfort in these times of doubt and at the same time can lead us eventually to confess the person of Jesus Christ as the true God. It is through a personal experience of the Risen Christ that we are led to belief. We often have to go through a dry desert of doubt to arrive at some faith, but this faith comes through personal experience, not a rational well-thought argument, or the testimony of others. We have to experience it for ourselves. St. Thomas had a positive doubt, he was looking for answers to his questions not dismissing them out of hand.
The important point of today’s Gospel is not so much the doubting of “doubting Thomas” but his confession of faith. The Apostle Thomas, states clearly that Jesus Christ is the Son and the Word of God, our Lord and our God.
It is awareness of the Divinity of Christ that shows itself when we are determined to live out the commandments. To love our neighbour, to care for others, to pray for our enemies, to give to the poor, to help the needy, to preach a message of hope in a fallen and broken world. It is the hope that leads us to follow the Christian path for all our life. This is exactly what the belief of the Apostle Thomas did, leading him to other continents to preach the word of hope and Resurrection in Christ. It is what all the saints did.
We can follow this example of our saints by showing love for all our fellow human beings, whoever they are, whatever ethnicity or background, we should help all those who need our help, just like Jesus and his disciples and all the saints.
This is the lesson from doubting Thomas.