Doubting Thomas, 1602, by M. Caravaggio (1571-1610)
John 20:19-29 — On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 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.”
(…continued) Instead of our questions leading to the abandoning of our faith and everything else, we could begin by ‘questioning our questions.’ Let’s back up to the beginning. You probably questioned how such a terrible verse as that could be in the Bible, and how that perhaps does discredit the whole book. But let’s ask a more basic question: Why does that verse bother you? Why do you think it is wrong for a father to have such absolute authority over a child? Not everyone would see that as a problem, not even in the 21st century. Even in this country there have been ‘honor killings’ where a Muslim father has killed a son or a daughter for converting to Christianity, or, for marrying someone without the father’s permission, or, for a daughter having sex outside of marriage, even if she was raped. Do all Muslims do that? Of course not. There is a vast diversity among Muslims just as there is among Christians, and as a Christian I would not want to be judged by those on the lunatic fringe of our faith. Such things are certainly rare among Muslims in this country. But in some nations, surveys have revealed a shocking openness to honor killings, by significant numbers of people. But not here. Why? Because our entire culture and civilization, for the past 3,000 years, has been shaped by the Bible. The Bible, more than any other book, has shaped our civilization. Other cultures have been shaped by other books. I would rather live in a culture like ours, based on the Bible, than anywhere else (even though that Biblical base is fast eroding away).
This Bible passage on stoning disobedient sons, which sounds so horrible to us, was actually an enormous moral leap forward for civilization. 300 years later, by the time of King David, it was already having a tremendous impact on the way fathers treated their sons. We appalled at the thought of a father dragging his son before a council of elders to be tried and possibly executed. But the Hebrew teenage boys at that time would have been breathing a sigh of relief at these new laws of Moses, which at least gave them a chance if they had a mean, unreasonable, and quick-tempered father. Such progress continues on into the New Testament, where it says in Ephesians that children should obey their parents (that didn’t change), but then adds that fathers should not provoke their children to anger.
Do you see what can happen when you question your questions? In this case, a big problem with the Law of God, turns into a wonderful truth about the Grace of God. In the same way, we should also doubt our doubts. The Gospel reading above from John 20:19-29 is all about doubt. On the evening of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead he appeared to his disciples who were overjoyed to see him, as you might well imagine. But one disciple, Thomas, was not there. He doubted the story of Jesus being back from the dead, even though his ten closest friends were all saying they had seen him alive and well. But Thomas must have doubted his doubts enough to keep in touch. The next time the disciples were all together, Thomas was with them, and Jesus again appeared. Jesus, after inviting Thomas to examine the evidence (his wounded hands and side), said to him, “Stop doubting and believe;” and Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”
This is the over-arching truth that I referred to earlier, by which I approach all unanswered questions. If Jesus rose from the dead, like no other person has ever done, then all of our other, smaller questions must find their answer somewhere— just like this past week I found that one answer to just one question. I, like Thomas, have had my doubts. I, like Thomas, was open to learning more. I, like Thomas, became convinced of the historical truth of the resurrection; and ever since, Jesus has been my Lord and my God. (continued…)