“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
I find Thomas to be not only one of the most courageous disciples; but also the most honest.
Unlike his counterparts, Thomas went out into the streets of Jerusalem after Jesus was executed. The rest of them remained behind locked doors because they were too afraid to do anything else. When they shared with Thomas their experience of meeting the risen Jesus in his absence – He didn’t accept their testimony. Instead, he sought to experience it himself. Even in his doubts, Thomas was bold enough to demand Jesus to show up again.
The letter of Hebrews asserts: “Faith is the assurance of things longed for; the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Thomas reveals the best kind of conviction is tested. It is scrutinized in order to see something new while challenging our previously held assertions. Assurance comes in our searching and longing.
We often place doubt as something antagonistic to faith, but too often the enemy of faith is not doubt but overblown certainty. We can become zealous about what we have been told or blindly accept. In our over-confidence we begin to dehumanize others who don’t share our viewpoint and blame them for the world’s ills if not also our own. Groups and Institutions on the defensive often narrow their definition of who is “in” and who is “out” without introspection. When we no longer tolerate questions or dissent, the way we see the world and others in it becomes something ugly.
Thomas inspires the opposite.
He invites us to honestly ask our questions. He includes our doubts and skepticism as we seek Jesus for ourselves, even when we are afraid. We need witnesses like him who expand our understandings, challenge our assumptions, and reveal to us different points of view. Then we can see what beautiful things God is doing all around us and appreciate what we might have missed before our search began.
Maybe we will say, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) like Thomas did when we do see Jesus in our lives. But more likely we will come to our own conclusions, use our own voice, as we live in our own time by our own experience in having looked for him with courage, boldness and even uncertainty. The community of the church can then help us discern what it means in light of our shared witness.
Thomas encourages us to keep searching, questioning, and hoping we may one day stand with God face to face for ourselves.
That’s the kind of assurance I long for – how about you?