I can still remember the first time I read the story of Doubting Thomas. I can’t have been much more than 10 or 11 years old. My parents gave each of my siblings a Bible of our own on our 10th birthday and encouraged us to begin studying it and asking questions. Like any good evangelist my Dad told me to start with the book of John. I didn’t understand why at the time but I was a good kid and I did what I was told.
Like most Bibles my Children’s New International Version broke the chapters and verses down one step further into headings of a few verses at a time. So I decided that I would read one heading a day. What with the demands of a busy childhood, school, sports and other activities that idea lasted about as long as my ten year old attention span and I was soon down to reading one heading a week if I was lucky. But I didn’t give up and a after a few months as I was approaching the end of the book of John I read a passage with the heading Jesus Appears to Thomas;
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. [John 20:24-31]
As the ten year old me read that passage for the first time I was struck by the simplicity of it. Here I was reading through a book that has confounded scholars and theologians for centuries, a book that I hardly understood half of but when I read this, as a child, I immediately got it. And after months of dutifully following my father’s instructions I understood why he told me to read this book first. Thirty years later the meaning of this passage is even clearer to me today, but the core of my initial understanding hasn’t changed.
Why? Because even at ten years old, I could relate to Thomas. I can’t tell you the number of times I have prayed for God to “show yourself”. We all have been told that Jesus was the incarnation of God but we all want to see him, experience him, and learn from him in person. If only we could have been there and been with him in the flesh all of our doubts and concerns would be answered right?
That’s not the case though is it? We read in all four Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament that people doubted Jesus and his disciples all the time. They questioned his authority, they misunderstood his teaching and they argued with him constantly. Even the Gospel writers themselves took years to reflect on their lives with Jesus before they were able to articulate and record what they experienced.
Doubt is natural when it comes to these things. The ten year old me took comfort in the fact the Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his doubt. He simply gave him the evidence he was looking for and then proceeded to bless those who believed without physical evidence. The forty year old me has grown more comfortable with the questions even though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had more answers.
Many of my best friends are atheists. I get it. I understand their desire for evidence. I even support the efforts of scientists to find more answers to the questions of our physical world. But I am quick to point out that where the questions of science and philosophy overlap science alone will never be able to give a satisfactory answer.
I also like to remind my atheist friends that the father of the scientific method was a Muslim by the name of Ibn Alhazen who was quoted as saying;
Truth is sought for itself [but] the truths, are immersed in uncertainties and the scientific authorities are not immune from error. [Ibn Alhazen; Aporias against Ptolemy 1025 A.D.]
We are all Doubting Thomases to a certain degree. It’s best if we’re honest and up front about it. Because as John’s Gospel reminds us, we are blessed when we believe what we cannot see. John wrote his account of Jesus so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. [John 20; 31].