Most of us say we identify with someone or something in the Bible. The hope is that we identify with something GOOD in the Bible. The reality is that there are times when we identify with something of lesser quality. Imagine my surprise when I identified with an apostle from very early on in my walk (as in the very first toe dab into the waters of accepting Christ). My surprise turned to frustration when the apostle I identified with, and the story about the love and acceptance Christ showed for God's child, was pointed to by some as an example of a person who doesn't have “true faith”, and had dubbed the person “Doubting Thomas”.
John 20: 24-29
The story of Thomas: Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, was not with the others when Jesus revealed himself after His resurrection. Thomas was told of Christ's resurrection by the others, and had yet to see Christ with his own eyes. Thomas's response to the news? “ 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.” In short, Thomas required visible and tangible proof, not word of mouth. Proof that, according to scripture, was available to him.
When I first read through this part of scripture at a Bible study everything I was reading and feeling was new. I was processing everything: from scripture, to feelings, to reading a Bible out loud (or even reading a Bible at all), to simply sitting in a room with believers. But Thomas, saying he needed to touch the wounds, saying he WOULD believe but that he had a requirement and implying that he believed Jesus could fulfill that, now that made a connection with me that even to this day I can't fully explain. I took note of it, sat up a little straighter in my chair, and paid closer attention to what came next. I wanted to know... did you hear that, WANTED to know, how Christ would respond to someone asking to touch His wounds in order to believe. This was the first time I had ever read the story. I didn't know the conclusion.
I stopped focusing on Thomas when Christ entered the picture in verse 26. How would this Messiah that I was just beginning to build a relationship with in my own life, just beginning to accept was the Son of God, treat the apostle that I had just now identified with? Would Thomas be turned away because he needed proof? Would he be compared to the apostle who saw the wrappings in the tomb and believed in the resurrection of Christ immediately; compared to the apostles who saw Christ with their eyes, but did not demand to touch Him? Would Jesus punish Thomas, shame him, accept him? I wasn't even sure how I wanted Jesus to respond to Thomas. I don't remember having time to think this all the way through. I just knew I was about to see how Christ reacted to a person who thought like me. Jesus did not ask Thomas questions. He did not prolong the inevitable. He greeted them, went straight to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” Christ already knew. He knew what was in Thomas's head and heart. He knew past conversations Thomas had with the others. He knew what Thomas needed. Christ met those needs. He did not shame him. He did not compare him to others. He did not berate him. But neither did Christ let Thomas stay where he was. “Do not doubt, but believe.” Thomas was not to be a stagnant soul. He was not meant to touch the wounds and then ask for more proof. There was not to be laundry list handed to Christ. For Thomas's part, he did not stay where he was, but moved forward immediately, “My Lord and my God.” Do you know what I love about that? I am so long winded. Verbose am I. Repetitive, even. Five words from Thomas, a declarative belief. And it was because Christ knew what Thomas needed, and He provided it for him. But do you know what really stuck out to me, even as a baby believer? Jesus never does anything that is wrong. If it is not supposed to be done He will refuse to do it. Holding out his palms, allowing Thomas to touch the proof of a risen Christ, providing tangible understanding of a unfathomable love of a Heavenly father, wasn't wrong. Which leads me to believe that Thomas wanting to touch Christ as proof of resurrection isn't wrong, either. Christ defines a truth, however. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” I loved John 20:24-29. I identified with it, but more importantly I point to it as a large leap forward in understanding of what having a relationship with God looked like and felt like in the early years of my walk.
Imagine my shock the first time I heard a sermon on this verse in a church setting. Never before had I heard the term “Doubting Thomas” (please remember I did not grow up in the church, and became a believer at 19. When I did accept Christ, I was what we shall refer to as a sporadic church attender, preferring to go to a small group Bible studies from time to time and was very leery of what is often referred to as “the Christian Community”). That day “Doubting Thomas” must have been repeated well into the double digits. This pastor, this sermon, and this take on this part of the Bible that had meant so much to my relationship with Christ shook me to the very center of myself. I remember being frustrated and confused. I remember wanting to argue the point, but not knowing how to express myself in any way. The sermon had focused on Thomas. The lecture had been about doubt. The points made were about human faith. And I was speechless. I didn't even know where to begin. But today, I do.
I begin with Christ. To me, this story is about Him.
Jesus came to Thomas immediately. The first words spoken revealed Christ's understanding of Thomas's needs. Sitting there as a new believer I wondered, “How did He know?” Today, as a seasoned believer I can reply simply, “God always knows the needs of His children.”
Christ Fills The Need:
In your relationship with Christ there will be times you are in need. Not in need of earthly things, but in need of an emotional connection. You are free to speak to God about your needs. When Thomas spoke to his friends about his needs, Christ heard him. He'll hear you, too. You may not even know exactly how to put it in to words, but you will still know that need is there. Express it through prayer. Express it through worship. We love a God who in person form allowed His child to put his hands on healed wounds because that is what his child needed. That's the God we serve.
Christ Follows Through:
In The Sermon On The Mount Jesus spoke of many things. He taught a large crowd, including His disciples. One of the things that Christ said was (Matthew 7:7) “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Here in the gospel of John, we see Thomas ask. I sat glued to my chair in Bible Study, not quite ready to yell from the rooftops that I believed in God but still knowing that I did, and watched Jesus follow through on His promise. I don't know about you, and your past experience with trust, but for me it was huge to see Jesus steadfastly fulfill a promise.
Christ Gives Direction:
There is something about reading the Bible that lets us have hind sight. We get to see life played out in front of us: beginning, middle, and end. Do you like a specific passage? Re-read it as many times as you like. Do you have a favorite Bible Story? Memorize it in detail. The Bible is there for you. But I admit to forgetting that these people lived out their lives not knowing what would come next. Thomas's words and actions were not calculated and thought out, they were human. He could not have known how Jesus would respond. After filling the need that Thomas had, Christ gave Thomas a specific direction. “Do not doubt, but believe.” How many times in my walk have I turned to God for direction? Too many to count. But what is more interesting to me right now is the number of times I have simply turned to God out of love, and He guided me. Even in times that I was waiting on God, He was still the one in the lead. Thomas reaches out, touches a risen Savior, confesses belief, and... is given direction from God. At the time I first read this, it unsettled me. I wasn't sure I wanted direction from God. To admit He was real was step one, but to take His direction was something that quiet frankly I wasn't ready for. Years later I find this part of scripture comforting. Direction. From God. Thomas may not have been looking for it, he may only have wanted confirmation, but direction he got. Our relationship with God is no different. Where He is, so is His direction.
Christ Includes Everyone:
Have you ever sat down in a group that had already been formed and realized that no one is letting you in on their conversation? They all slightly have their backs turned to you and no one will make eye contact. No one has directly told you to go away, but that message is implied every second you choose to stay there. No? I'm the only one? Fine, then, I can accept that. Here we have an example of two men sharing an intimate moment, a Savior and a believer, in a room full of people. It's Thomas's personal encounter with Christ. So what does Jesus do with this intimate moment? Two very important things. He fills Thomas's needs first. How do I know Thomas feels fulfilled? Because he calls out, “My Lord and My God.” This would be the equivalent to me bursting out in tears when God answers a prayer or sends me a sign that can only be from Him; it's an acknowledgment of God filling the void. The second thing Jesus does in this very intimate moment is bring us all in on it. No one is precluded from this flesh touching, soul searching, life changing moment. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That would be us. His salvation is available to all. No one is excluded.
The beauty of The Bible is that we can read the same story over and over again and God will open our eyes to something new. I understand what the pastor was saying that day about doubt and faith. I realize that this story is usually told from Thomas's point of view. I get that we can compare our human reactions to God with Thomas's human reactions to God. But for me, John 20:24-29 is about how Jesus treated the humanity found in a person who expressed a need. And it made me fall in love with God. It allowed me to walk farther down the road with Him.
So no, Thomas will never be “Doubting Thomas” to me. Just like I won't call Mary “I Thought You Were The Gardner Mary,” or Peter, “Get Behind Me Satan Peter”. These are people, people I identify with, people who had reactions to God, people who did human things. What is important about them to me is to see how Jesus interacts with them, especially the ones I identify with. Because that has helped me so much in my relationship with God. So while I thank Thomas for being willing to ask to touch Christ's wounds, my real appreciation is for a Savior who held out His hands and offered His side and invited His child to touch Him.