Seeing and believing

Today the Christian Church celebrates the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle who said that he could not believe Christ was alive until he saw and handled the wounds of Christ for himself. Recent modern interpretation of this story about Thomas (as found in St John’s Gospel) has treated Thomas as a skeptic who needed to have his faith confirmed empirically – by the evidence of his senses – rather than believing without seeing.

When Jesus appears to Thomas he allows him to see the wounds and feel them, and urges him not to doubt but to believe. Finally in this story Jesus pronounces a blessing on all who have not seen and yet have come to believe. It’s easy to read that as further criticism of Thomas’ skeptical approach.

Today we read this with the eyes of those whose culture is steeped in the scientific empiricist approach. We assume that the key issue about faith in God is that we are required to believe in an entity whom we have not seen nor have no way of proving. Doubting Thomas we think is behaving like a modern skeptic- he won’t believe what cannot be proved.

But I think the story of Thomas  is about identity – the identity of the Lord the other disciples claim to have seen and Thomas own identity in the sense of whom he is prepared to identify with as his God. I am sure that there is no issue in St John’s Gospel  about whether or not God exists, or whether amazing things  incapable of rational explanation, like the dead rising, may occur. What Thomas doubts is whether the crucified one really could be the Lord of all – whether the suffering and wounded one can be the Messiah – and this is what is confirmed for him as he touches the nail prints; and whether he might place his life’s trust in that one who failed so abjectly by the usual criteria of success in this world.

When Thomas does see and feel those wounds he exclaims the most positive affirmation of any of the first followers of Christ: “My Lord and my God”. 


7 thoughts on “Seeing and believing

  1. Epiphanist

    Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
    This text is a signature one for me. It reminds me of how privileged I am to have seen what I have. It helps me to have patience with those who seem to have got their faith wrong. It underlines the democracy of the Kingdom – that by grace, faith humbles us all.

  2. PalMD

    How can someone “get their faith wrong? Its FAITH!
    As an empiricist, I can appreciate DHs commentary. In the U.S., many of the Episcopal Churches actively encourage doubt, hoping that it will eventually strengthen faith. I find that encouraging, as a non-religious person, that doubt is encouraged.

  3. seafaringstranger

    The more I study science, and math, and logic, the more grounded I am in my conclusion that there is in fact a God. For me, faith is not believing or disbelieving in God. There is a fine line between belief and faith, and though that line is fine, to the average eye it looks like a gap that’s a million feet wide and three times as deep. Faith is trusting in God and jumping, Even for a believer that can be very hard… but the cliche, “A Leap of Faith” isn’t a cliche for nothing…

  4. angllhugnu2

    The story of the “Doubting Thomas” has always intrigued me. Even as a child I had this odd feeling as I would read or even hear the story. I have always ask myself who wrote that story and why did they write the story? I would eventually find out the story was written to help the Jews who were no longer in Jerusalem to take a more active role in the lives they would live. Having had some disappointment that Jesus had not returned as quickly as they expected, the writer of this story needed to help each member of the faith community be more active with each other. For example, in the story, Thomas makes a profound discovery about how intimately close Jesus to be. He could be touched by the love of Jesus’ life by simply looking deeper into the meaning of each person we meet. And, the writers of this Gospel wanted the faith community to know this closeness as a valuable part of each person they would meet. Whether conscious or unconscious….wittingly or unwittingly….the writer wanted the life of Christ to be felt—in the lives of each person we would come to meet through The Father.

  5. angllhugnu2

    I am honored by your response. We are ALL so cool. I sense from reading John that his gospel are exerpts of his journally about Life. And, he needed to say stuff…sort of like what we do in these blogs….that made sense to people to take action. If he makes claim to many of the ideas he’s discovered for himself….All hell breaks loose and the message never gets sent…..It must have really been important for him (or them) to make sure The Jesus Message (meaning) was conveyed so that everyone who would hear it….would have a good life…always….some might say eternally. This all brings new meaning to being “the way, the truth, and the life…” for me.

  6. Darren

    I can relate to angllhugnu2 (why not use your real name?) I always wondered if we aren’t a bit hard on Thomas. I wonder if the reason he had questions was maybe because he was closer to Jesus than we imagine him to be. Perhaps Jesus’ death hit him harder because so many of his hopes were seemingly dashed by the crucifixion. We remember him as ‘doubting Thomas’ but I like to think maybe he was ‘honest Thomas’ a disciple who’s love and hope in Jesus went very deep. I know I’m just guessing but I don’t get the feeling John (or Jesus) was berating him in his turmoil.


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