Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
- John 20:29
When you read this week's Gospel passage (John 20:19-31), do you ever find yourself wondering: am I like Thomas? Am I hard to convince? Do I question the truth even if it's standing right in front of me? Am I a doubter? I know many people dislike this passage because it seems to challenge their faith.
But I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bad rap from this story. I don't think it's a bad thing not to immediately say you believe something just because others tell you to. I mean, after all, the other disciples had all had a visit face to face with Jesus already. They'd had the opportunity to experience his presence with them. Thomas is not asking for anything more than the others have had in this story. And he is wise enough to know that true belief is more than parroting back what someone else has told you. The source of true belief is none other than God. And Thomas wants to do more than just talk the talk to please his friends. He wants to walk the walk with Christ.
This makes me think of those trust exercises people sometimes do - when you close your eyes and fall back, trusting that others will catch you before you hit the floor. I did one of these once at a seminar, and I had to stand on a very high platform and fall backward into a blanket that a group of people were holding. It was scary to lean back and let go! It's easy enough to say you believe that such exercises are great community builders and that they do a good job of bringing people together. It's quite another thing to really trust and fall backward into the blanket!
So, in other words, saying you believe is not always the same as really believing. And Thomas, I think, is wise to know this. He knows that religious belief that is simply repeating what you heard someone else say is a rather a shallow faith. Deep faith and trust - what Jesus is calling "belief" in this passage - comes from a direct encounter with God - often through experiencing wounds. Faithful Thomas knows this.
While we may no longer have the opportunity to see the historical Jesus in the flesh as Thomas did in that locked room, we still have repeated opportunities to recognize Christ standing right in front of us in surprising ways - Christ with us when we are in need - Christ behind us when we need a nudge - Christ before us when we need guidance - and Christ all around us in other people, who sometimes we suddenly see with entirely new eyes. It is each time we directly recognize that Christ is with us, that our faith and trust deepens.
It would be great if we all had the deep desire that Thomas had - to touch, see, and experience God for ourselves. It is that desire that leads us deeper and deeper into a relationship with God, and deeper and deeper into a mature faith.
God until they've felt the wounds of this life and explored Christ's presence in them. It
Thomas - and all of us - need to really doubt what we've heard
Only when you've really come to know God in Christ yourself, through your own experience, can you really own your faith.