Doubting Thomases

“Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
— The resurrected Jesus to Thomas (John 20:29, CEB)

Caravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Poor Thomas. Of the eleven men in Jesus’ inner circle who remained after the death of the traitor Judas, he was the only one who wasn’t in the room when their resurrected Master appeared. The others tried to tell Thomas what had happened. But he refused to believe it — not until he could see Jesus with his own two eyes.

A week later, he got his wish. This time, Thomas responded in faith, sputtering, “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28). Jesus’ answer, quoted above, may sound like a rebuke, and Thomas has forever after been remembered for his doubt rather than his faith. But we don’t need to take Jesus as saying, “Oh, Thomas, you’re such a loser. Why didn’t you believe what the others told you?” He allowed for Thomas’ doubt, even while calling him to a more blessed kind of faith: believing without seeing.

That faith is prefigured for us already in John 4. As we saw in the previous post, a royal official came to Jesus asking for a miracle, that Jesus would come to his home and heal his son. And Jesus did just that — by simply saying the word.

Put yourself in the official’s shoes at that moment. Your son is dying, and all you want is for him to be healed. You know Jesus to be a miracle worker. But when you plead for him to intervene, all he does is say, “Go home. Your son lives” (vs. 50). Do you go? Do you hesitate? Do you ask for clarification or some other kind of reassurance?

John tells us that the official simply takes Jesus at his word, and leaves. And then we have this:

While he was on his way, his servants were already coming to meet him. They said, “Your son lives!” So he asked them at what time his son had started to get better. And they said, “The fever left him yesterday at about one o’clock in the afternoon.” Then the father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus. This was the second miraculous sign Jesus did while going from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:51-54, CEB)

The official and the servants each have their own part of the story. When they meet on the road halfway, they put the pieces together. And the happy ending is not just that the boy is healed, but that the entire household comes to faith in Jesus.

That is, after all, what signs are for.

I suspect that, at one time or another, we are all Doubting Thomases. We’re troubled, and want something from God. And we want to believe, but we need more evidence.

If Jesus is scolding Thomas, I imagine it to be a gentle reprimand. Thomas is on his knees; Jesus reaches down and places a hand on his shoulder. “Let me tell you, Thomas. It isn’t going to be easy following me from here on out. You’re going to need the kind of faith that continues to trust in me even when you don’t see what you want to see.”

It’s the kind of faith we need. The signs of Jesus are meant to point us to the person of Jesus and his true identity. We trust a person, not a sign.

We may want or need a miracle. And sometimes, we get one. But the question of faith is whether we will continue to trust even when there’s no miracle immediately in sight.