Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blessed Are They Who Have Not Seen

The Gospel of John records an interesting episode that took place a week after Christ's resurrection. Since this Sunday marks a week after Easter, I thought it would be appropriate to write about this episode today.

On the day of His resurrection, Christ appeared to the women who came to the empty tomb, then to the assembled disciples as they hid in an upper room. He ate with them again, and gave them the opportunity to feel His wounds and gain an intimate knowledge of the reality of His death and resurrection. They must have been overjoyed to see Him--their grief and lamentation turned into praise and adoration.

That evening, John records that "Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (20:24-25).

In the break between this verse and the next are eight days left unrecorded. I have thought this week about what took place in those intervening days. Thomas had not been present, and so could not believe that such an unprecedented thing as the Resurrection had taken place. Did Thomas regret whatever circumstance had kept him from that room that Sunday evening? Did he mourn the lost opportunity? Did he wonder if he would ever get a chance to see the friend he had lost?

What did Thomas think about during that week? Did the other disciples try to convince Thomas of their experience? One by one, did they bear testimony of the living Christ? Did Thomas's heart break to hear them? Did he want to believe that Christ was alive, but simply found their tale too fantastical to swallow?

Did the other disciples think less of Thomas for his unbelief? Did Thomas think less of himself, that the other disciples had been given an experience that he had been denied? Did he doubt his own relationship with the Lord he loved? Did he pray and seek for an understanding of why he, out of all of the disciples, had been left out of this magnificent event?

A week passed--a week that must have been the longest week of Thomas's life, a week that must have tried his faith and made him question his high calling. Only then did Thomas receive the great blessing of seeing his Lord. His response to that manifestation demonstrates that he does not deserve the pejorative title "Doubting Thomas." Rather, I like to call him "Thomas, the Believer."

"And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:26-29).

There have been times in my life when I have felt like Thomas--left out in the cold, wanting to believe, but doubting, like I'm the only one missing out on some great cosmic secret that everyone around me seems to understand so readily. I grate to hear others question my faith and devotion, applying a formulaic approach to the gospel, and concluding that because I do not yet believe what they believe, my lack of knowledge must be due to a lack of righteous desire, earnest prayer, or sincere searching. In doing so, they forget that the gospel is not a formula, that God is not a vending machine, that things of the spirit are more complicated than reductionist logic will allow, that just as the wind "bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). Spiritual experiences and their accompanying heavenly knowledge, though immutably promised (Doc. & Cov. 104:2), are non-programmable and cannot be forced.

Thomas never denied his testimony of the things he did know, even while he was waiting for a experiential confirmation of the things he did not know. In this same vein came the Lord's invocation, "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Going forward in faith, with an eye single to the glory of God, even when the way is uncertain, when the logic of a situation will not permit a blind belief in a self-contradictory miracle, will be rewarded with the Lord's blessings, in the Lord's own time and in His own way. When we cry out with the honesty of incomplete knowledge, with faith seeking understanding, "Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief," He will hear our prayers and visit us in our afflictions. He may not remove our heartaches or answer our questions immediately, but His love for us will not diminish because of them. On the contrary--I believe His love for us will only increase as He sees our faithfulness and discipleship, even in times when our faith and our knowledge are lacking and incomplete. When we have times like Thomas, we can find comfort in the love that our Savior has for us, even in our mortal weakness, and in pressing forward in faithful discipleship, receive the blessings promised to those "that have not seen, and yet have believed."

"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:30-31).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this moving defense of Thomas, and of us.