So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” — John 20:25 ESV
The world is full of skeptics. I know because I’m one of them. I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were good and loving people for which I am always increasingly grateful. Even so, from a very early age I saw the angry, noisy, pettiness of my mother, and the morose, silent, petulance of my father, and concluded (like only an adolescent can do) that hypocrisy was everywhere. I reasoned that if my parents, who in my mind, exemplified good Christians, could behave with such duplicity, then perhaps everything they taught me was suspect, including who and what Jesus was.
Now, Jesus had a lot of negative things to say about hypocrisy. To live your life by double standards is for sure a poison pill. But I’ve noticed that, at least with the media nowadays, hypocrisy is the last remaining sin. One is not required, or even encouraged to believe anything but to expose something and then fail to live up to it, that has become the unpardonable sin. For me, I’d rather meet an honest hypocrite than someone who lacks convictions at all. It seems that to have a moral standard for which you fall short is better than failing to have moral standards at all.
As a teenager, I acquired a “prove it” attitude about nearly everything. I honestly believed that I myself could never be wrong so long as I never firmly believed anything. This, as it turned out, was a pretty good recipe for cynicism and I wore it like a suit of armor. One way to ward off disappointment is to fake indifference. As they say, “fake it till you make it”, and after a few years, indifference and sarcasm became my go-to attitude about most everything. True, this is typical behavior for a nerdy teenager, but its ubiquity doesn’t make it less toxic. I was a frightened child hiding behind an annoying smirk. The kind of kid you just want to smack.
In Thomas I see a kindred spirit. I really think that Thomas wants to believe — but he’s been traumatized and hurt. Like most of the disciples, he’s riddled with guilt for deserting Jesus in the garden. His hopes and dreams for a restored Israel were dashed when Jesus was murdered on the cross. He risked everything to follow Jesus and from his point of view… everything is lost. His hope and his faith will not be restored easily. He wants and needs evidence.
After the resurrection, Jesus begins to turn up in what seems like random appearances. He appears to Mary Magdelene with tenderness as she’s grieving. He appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explains in detail what the scriptures have to say about the coming Messiah. He appears to the disciples literally breathing the Spirit into them and commissioning them to go into the world. I believe he’s meeting those he loves in exactly the way they long and need to be met. Each encounter is unique and personal and intimate.
Last of all, he appears to Thomas. He says to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” He’s not trying to embarrass Thomas here. Like the others, he’s giving him what he needs and exhorts him, “Do not disbelieve but believe”. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God”. Thomas is not half-hearted here, this conviction will last a lifetime.
No — we don’t get to put our finger into the holes in his hands or his side. We are necessarily among the blessed who “have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). But just like Thomas, Jesus met me in a time and a place in my life where I disparately needed him to be. He didn’t appear in bodily form, but he did touch a hardened heart with the only thing that could penetrate it — his tender love. He still meets each of us — at the graveside, along the road, or in a locked room… and our encounter with Him is not less unique or personal than any other.
Yes — for those of you who know me I remain a skeptic about many things. Like Thomas, perhaps it’s just part of who God made me. As it turns out, there are many ideas, both in and out of the church, that we should kick the tires on and take a good look in the horse’s mouth.
But for me on this day, and every day of my life, I will speak the confession of Thomas “Jesus, My Lord and my God”.