For a long while it’s bugged me that the apostle Thomas’ name has gone the way of a byword. “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas,” some wryly throw about. It’s like what has happened to Albert Einstein – for such an intelligent man, we only use his name as a sarcastic insult directed at “stupid” people. Today, I think Thomas is the apostle we should most aspire to be like. And I’ll tell you why.
For a quick recap (be warned, there’s historical spoilers): Jesus has been crucified. Now, from the perspective of a revolutionary movement, this is pretty devastating news. The leader is dead. I remember the so-called “Episcopal Ghost” in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, who laments what a shame it was that Jesus was killed at the mere age of thirty-three, wondering what great works He could have accomplished if only He had lived longer. However, this is no human movement, and Jesus is no interrupted revolutionary.
But alas, He has been crucified. The disciples, at this point only grasping this turn of events as terrible news, scatter and abandon their teacher. Over the course of the next 72 hours, these men and women who had followed Jesus reconnect in a small house somewhere in Jerusalem. However, one notable figure is missing from the group: Thomas.
Jesus doesn’t stay dead. First Mary Magdalene, and then Peter and John, visit the tomb where Jesus had been buried and find it empty, save for a messenger from God (or, in Mary’s case, Jesus Himself) informing them that He has risen from the dead. Returning to the house, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and talks with them. However, again, one notable figure is missing from the group: Thomas.
When Thomas finally makes his way through Jerusalem and locates the other disciples, he’s greeted by his friends, ecstatic that Jesus has risen from the dead and recently appeared to them. Thomas, with nothing but the muttering Jerusalem streets recycling the news of Jesus’ death filling his ears for the past 72 hours, unsurprisingly is doubtful. He doesn’t believe his friends. It’s a physical impossibility. Their story logically can not occur within the laws of physics. Thomas is hedging his bets. Thomas is being smart.
How often does this story occur in modern days? As an intuitive person, I can easily err on the side of over-spiritualizing and introducing imaginative concepts and even genuine falsehoods into my worldview. Conversely, I believe the sensory and pragmatic person can easily err on the side of over-rationalizing the good news, interrupted in a leap of faith by the rational fact that people don’t rise from the dead. Or that radiocarbon dating seems to challenge the Biblical narrative. Or that the sun can’t stand still in the sky. Or that seas don’t part into two sheer walls on either side. Or that the Revelation to John is really kind of weird.
Thomas is being pragmatic, and it seems only natural. He’s a natural scientist, ~1000 years before the scientific method. In fact, it’s only when Jesus Himself appears in the flesh to Thomas that the “Doubting Apostle” makes a stunning proclamation after touching the wounds of Christ: “My Lord and My God!”
What a shocking thing to hear from the man who moments ago doubted that a man could be raised from the dead. Thomas is now hailing this resurrected man as God Himself.
I think sometimes we forget that Thomas did, in fact, believe. Thomas went to India and died a martyr’s death because he believed. Thomas gave his whole life for Jesus because he believed. Thomas loved because he believed, and this is the reason we should all be like Thomas.
We live in an age of pop-science. There’s a select few individuals who really understand the earth-shattering discoveries being made, and then most of the population shares extremely simplified renditions of these discoveries on social media. And we know this. This is our ticket to doubt, because the experts have all-but-disproven God, even if I don’t understand exactly how.
But the complexity of the scientific discoveries isn’t a headshot to the Follower of Christ. The further we search into Yahweh, the further we must acknowledge that – if truly this God has endured for millennia with an unquenchable command on our attention, and if he truly claims to have created everything that exists, then I’m frankly awestruck at everything that exists and struck dumb by the God who created it. Science does not disprove God; it accentuates His claim of absolute Earth-melting sovereignty.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?” – Job 38:4-7 NIV
And God, who created the laws of physics and established the structural bones of reality, can break them. He can make the water stand on edge. He can raise dead men. It is not repeatable because God is not our pet. It is only observable when He does it, because his laws of physics are unrelenting unless He relents them. The scientific method can observe to the deepest depths, but it can’t answer the ultimate why. Only when Thomas touches Jesus does he understand the ultimate why, and he gives his life to Him. It’s meeting Jesus that satisfies our ultimate question.
God can withstand the deepest scientific scrutiny, but we must first believe. The hypothesis – or, that which is placed under; the foundation – must be Jesus. Then, no attempt to disprove the hypothesis will prevail. Everyone who trusts in Him will not be put to shame.
“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 11:25 NIV