For a long time that phrase puzzled, even frightened me. It seemed to imply there was something inherently wrong, perhaps sinful, about not being certain about something. And when I finally connected its origin with St. Thomas, one of Jesus’ Apostles, I was even more confused. How can an Apostle be so wrong? Is it always wrong to doubt? Is it even possible not to have some doubt about lots of thing?
Despite the snickering of the other Apostles that I often picture, as the Resurrected but not yet Ascended Jesus approaches Thomas, I think Jesus shows understanding and compassion for Thomas’s doubt. Jesus does not condemn Thomas for not believing until he had seen and experienced the Risen Jesus for himself. Instead Jesus (and the author of John’s Gospel) teaches all of us generations and centuries later that we are blessed for believing without the benefit of physical confirmation.
Faith without doubt is certitude. Doubt without faith is cynicism. Although I have experienced moments of both certitude and cynicism in myself and others, I don’t think either extreme is often healthy or attractive. In my experience, doubt and faith can complement one another. Just because Thomas was not yet ready to believe his friends about seeing the Risen Jesus does not mean he lacked all faith. In fact, Thomas’s doubt probably led to a deepening of his faith after he experienced Jesus as Risen.
One other insight about Thomas is that he is the Apostle who insists on closely inspecting the wounds and suffering of Jesus. Thomas, perhaps more than anyone else, is able to face the heinous suffering of Jesus and take seriously the pain of the cross. Do we as Christians not have an obligation to take seriously the suffering of Jesus on the cross, the suffering of our world today, and be willing to follow Jesus despite that pain? We might be tempted not to inspect too closely the suffering of people today from war, poverty, disease, etc. But once we inspect these wounds ourselves, rather than doubt their severity we must face the truth and act accordingly.
For me Thomas is a saint and apostle who is down to earth, easy to relate to, and an inspiration for not turning away but for being willing to inspect and take seriously the pain and suffering of Jesus, the cross, and our world – no doubt about it.
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