We all know the story of Believing Thomas. He didn’t believe until he saw the risen Jesus and touched His wounds.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed (John 20:29).’” For years I wondered “Why?” Why is that better? In days when I was dealing with atheists and wrestling with questions about God’s existence I thought that it would be a lot easier if the risen Jesus would just appear to everyone like He had appeared to Thomas and let is examine His hands and His side. It is certainly not beyond His power.
We see a situation in which John does not see, but believes. He is a model for all of us. “He bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial clothes there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed (John 20:5-8).” It was significant that the cloth for the head was not with the others but rolled up in a separate place, because that suggested this was not the work of grave robbers. The first thought would be the body had been stolen, but what grave robbers would roll up the cloth and put it aside? It didn’t add up. That was enough to convince him, and he believed. This is not the first time the Gospel of John suggests people putting the clues together. “The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had only been one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left (John 6:22). This made people suspect something was up. We, of course know that Jesus didn’t need a boat, He just walked.
A very interesting book called The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick with Lawrence Kimbrough deals with intentionally building love within a marriage. It had a section that was eye-opening for me. “A woman deeply longs for her husband to be thoughtful. It is a key to helping her feel loved. When she speaks, a wise man will listen like a detective to discover the unspoken needs and desires her words imply. If, however, she always has to put the pieces together for him, it steals the opportunity for him to demonstrate that he loves her.” I had always thought that saying, “If you don’t understand I’m not going to explain it to you” was an exercise in gratuitous cruelty, but this makes sense. God also calls us to be attentive and thoughtful, to put together the pieces, to “connect the dots,” to discover Him and His will for us. This is not, of course, because He needs us to make Him feel loved (He needs nothing from us), but it is a way we become more engaged and give ourselves more deeply, more completely to Him, which is what we need more than anything else. Of course, unlike a human spouse, God knows our abilities completely and will never fault us for failing to figure out something that is beyond our ability. If the risen Jesus were to appear to each one of us and do the “stick your finger in the nail marks” thing, we would not have to engage much of our brains. We are only complete when we are totally His, and this involves more and more of ourselves responding to the call and seeking. We remember, when we are seeking Him, He has already found us.
In a deep friendship, trust develops, and things are believed without being proven, but with good reason. There comes a point where we decide it is not absolute, but there is enough reason to believe. One could always say, “I’m not convinced yet; I need to see more.” If someone doesn’t want to trust you, there will never be enough to convince them. But imagine being able to take a meter and read the level of friendship someone has for us. That would be less work, wouldn’t it? But perhaps that is exactly the work that we must do to build friendship.
It also means that we have the ability to decide that no one can be trusted and everyone is out for what they can get and will turn on you the minute it is to their advantage. Then, of course, we will avoid being disappointed, but we shut ourselves out of so much. We don’t get very far without faith.
When people want proof that does not require them engaging, stressing, taking some risk, then there can never be true friendship. “The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ Then he lift them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore (Mark 8:11-13).’”
Although faith is a gift, it is also a choice. “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil (John 3:29).”
God calls us to give ourselves to Him deeply, fully, and freely. This means more effort, but it is eternally worth it. So why did Jesus give this special moment to Thomas? God knows what each one of us needs, and knows it better than we do. He will give us what we need, but not necessarily what we want.