I’ve been feeling sorry for a man named, Thomas, in the Bible.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard him called “Doubting Thomas,” because he doubted reports of Christ’s resurrection.
We can find his story in the 20th chapter of the book of John in the New Testament.
By this point, Jesus has died a horrible, bloody death on a Roman cross. His body has been placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
Some women have gone to the tomb — only to find it empty and to be told by at least one angel that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Jesus appears to a woman called Mary Magdalene and the disciples.
But Thomas — one of Christ’s closest disciples — isn’t with the others when Jesus appears to them.
Where was he?
John describes Thomas as “The Twin.”
Was he with his sibling mourning the loss of Jesus?
Was he hiding out — fearful of the brutal Roman soldiers?
Or the religious leaders who’d plotted Christ’s death?
We don’t know where he was.
But we know what happened after the other disciples say they’ve seen the Lord.
If Missouri — the “Show me” state — was around back then, Thomas probably would have been a resident.
He isn’t buying what the other guys are saying.
“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,” Thomas says.
That doesn’t sound too nice.
Surely, he doesn’t think they’re lying.
He doesn’t call them liars.
Does Thomas think his fellow disciples are so grief-stricken that they can’t see straight?
Maybe it’s a case of mistaken identity?
Or here’s what I wonder:
Does Thomas not want to his hopes up again — just to see them smashed?
Think about it.
Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. During that time, he gathered 12 close disciples of whom Thomas was one.
What would it have been like to see Jesus heal very sick people? Feed a few thousand hungry ones? Cast demons out of others? Calm storms?
At the same time, Thomas knew the religious leaders — fearful that their power and high positions were being threatened — plotted to kill Christ.
Thomas even planned to die with the Lord at one point.
It happens when Jesus is heading to Judea to see Lazarus. The disciples remind him that people there had tried to stone him to death.
But Jesus is going anyway.
So Thomas — sounding resolutely brave — speaks up with: “Let’s also go, that we may die with him.”
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Jesus doesn’t die then. Instead, he raises Lazarus from the dead.
Later, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey while exuberant supporters throw their cloaks on the ground.
Bible scholars say people thought Jesus was going to free them from the iron fist of their ruthless Roman conquerors.
The Roman army was known for being merciless and thousands of people were crucified — a horrible form of execution — leaving terror, broken families and poverty in its wake.
Against the backdrop of all that, Thomas sees the beloved, compassionate and — innocent — Jesus so violently murdered.
I wonder if Thomas thought all his dreams and hopes for the future died with Jesus on that cross.
It must have been as surreal as it was painful.
Wouldn’t Thomas have experienced the shock, deep sadness and the blur of other emotions that grief-stricken people feel?
Now he’s got people telling him that Jesus is alive.
Why would Thomas want to get his hopes up?
But a week later, Christ’s disciples — including Thomas — are in a house.
The doors are locked, yet Jesus comes and stands among them.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says.
Then he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas must have been so surprised.
“My Lord and my God!” he says.
I try to imagine the look on Thomas’ face — eyes wide, maybe filled with tears. Did he drop to his knees?
We don’t know.
But we know what Jesus says next:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I wonder if Thomas felt shame mixed with joy as he beheld his Savior. Yet I have a feeling that eventually he’d sense the forgiveness of our loving Messiah and gain a sense of restored hope.
Thomas would go on to help spread the Gospel and tradition tells us he was martyred in India.
If actions really do speak louder than words, then I think Thomas demonstrated not doubt, but great faith as he gave his life for our Lord.
As a child, I remember how happy and proud I felt when I heard a Sunday school teacher say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I felt blessed, because I believed without seeing.
As an adult, I’ve seen — not Jesus face to face — but certainly the hand of God in my life. I’ve seen him work out all sorts of situations — major and minor.
Do I still doubt?
I don’t think I have hollow, faith-eating doubts. But I’ve wondered why certain things have — or haven’t — happened and why some prayers haven’t been answered yet.
When that occurs, I tell God what a distraught father once told Jesus:
“I do believe, help my unbelief!”
And I try to leave it in God’s hands.
I wonder if Thomas ever prayed a prayer like that.
One thing I know:
If seeing is believing, Thomas must be seeing everything he needs to see now — in a place where I don’t believe doubt exists at all.