A couple of weeks later, my brother was taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon after a particularly busy Sunday morning. He was awakened by the voice of his wife yelling, “Go get daddy! Go get daddy! Go get daddy!” He jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs to meet his eldest on his way up. He asked him, “What happened?” To which his son replied, “Its kind-of hard to explain.” He continued down and met his youngest with a wad of bloody tissue in his mouth. His wife told him that the kids were playing outside in the snow when his youngest came to the door and asked her to get something for him. She told him to wait there while she got it and closed the front door. The doorknob is metal and she could soon hear yelling outside the door. So, she ran and turned the doorknob to see what was going on. Yes, his tongue had been stuck to the doorknob.If you haven’t lived in a bitterly cold region, you’ll be happy to know that the skin on his tongue will grow back. Many of us have experienced this as a child and have lived to talk about it, ha! But the point here is that here are three children raised by the same parents who have very different thought processes. They hear the same message and yet their thoughts are vastly different. Thus it is with us. We have the same God and might even be reared in a similar context and yet our perspectives can vary greatly.
A friend of mine, Richard Beck, has created a dichotomy between summer and winter Christians. Summer Christians have a fairly consistent certainty in regards to God and theology. They are confident that God is real and rarely doubt, if ever. Winter Christians are on the other end of the continuum and are filled with doubt. They rarely are confident that God is real and their faith hangs on by a thread. I would add that these are on a continuum. Most of us are somewhere in the middle and yet lean toward one end or the other.
In John 20:19-29, we read the text of one of the most famous doubters, Thomas.
- 19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
- 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Let’s enter into this scene with Thomas. What a crazy time for the disciples. They had such hope. They had found the Messiah! Sure he had said things about dying, but that had not seemed to be a possibility. Yet he did seem resolute to place himself in danger. He was not to be dissuaded from going to Jerusalem the previous week. Thomas had even said as they went to see Lazarus, “let us also go with him so that we may die with him.” But no one had believed he would actually die. Just a few short days earlier; they had watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Could the Messiah really die when he could raise others?
And the torture and death were so horrible! No one could have imagined the horror of being with Jesus in an intimate dinner and then seeing him arrested in the garden, by Roman guards. How could they have prepared themselves for him to be crucified? Instead of dying with him, they had run away in shame.
I wonder if they spoke of it when they were together after he was placed in the tomb. The text says that they were scattered. Apparently, they found their way back together. Yet now, there were rumors. Ludicrous rumors that he was alive—this just three days after he died. First, the testimony of the women and then Peter and the others joining in. Surely they must be deluded in their grief. Why make it worse than what it already is? So, he thought, “No, I’m not buying it. Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger in the wounds in his hands and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas gets a bum rap. I think I may have responded in a similar way. “How could the others believe? Why get their hopes up again? It was over—they should just lay it to rest.” I can understand his hesitancy to jump in. He’s been burned and disappointed in himself and Jesus. As a therapist, I deal with a lot of shame. It is a powerful influence. It would not have been typical for the followers of Jesus to run to each other for support when they had desserted him. They would have kept their distance for a time. And Thomas had missed the “supposed” appearance of Jesus and is not going to be convinced without proof. He throws out the conditions on which he will believe (and later realizes they aren’t needed).
I get that! There are times when I am disappointed with God. I prefer to keep some distance, as I am not eager to be burned again. I throw down the fleece and say, “These are my conditions, God. If you want me as your follower, make it happen!” Part of this disappointment is with me. I would rather project it onto God, but it is often the case that I am not terribly proud of myself in the situation. So, I wait for God to meet my conditions. If they are not met, I can continue in my anger towards God. How absurd this is! How arrogant to demand of God!
Yet, what is beautiful in this scene with Thomas is the way that Christ responds! He graciously accepts the conditions of Thomas and offers his hands and his side for the examination of Thomas. The shame could have been overwhelming, but thankfully, Thomas stayed. Christ knew his weaknesses and loved him! One commentator says, when Thomas saw Jesus, he experienced “the burst of glad conviction which lifted him to the loftiest height reached while Christ was on earth.”Amazing! In our doubt and pain, Christ is present and gracious! The God of the universe is faithful in the times when I am certainly not at my best. Despite that, God makes God’s presence known to me. And like Thomas, I realize that when I encounter God, my conditions are not necessary. I get the smallest glimpse of the magnitude and gift of being in relationship with my God!
Regardless of where I am on the continuum of certainty and doubt, there are times when I voice the conditions of my continuing relationship with God. Fortunately, that is not the behavior of Christ. He loves us unreservedly and despite our demands, he continues in relationship with us. Praise God!