No More Thomases

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Today is the feast day of Thomas, patron saint of all doubters, apparently. I want to gently disagree. Actually, who are we kidding? I want to disagree strongly. Thomas is the patron saint of the end of doubt.

Here’s the Anglican collect for today:

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who for the more confirmation of the faith didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ, that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved. Hear us, O Lord, through the same Jesus Christ, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for evermore. Amen.

The collect identifies what is happening in the famous narrative of John 20:24-31. Thomas suffers doubt in Jesus’ resurrection in order to lead to “more confirmation of the faith“. We in turn pray to “so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ”. This is, of course, exactly what John intends as he writes the account.

John 20:24-25    Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

and fair enough. Who would believe such an enormous claim (that Jesus had been raised from death) without some decent evidence? So he gets it:

26   A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28    Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

It’s pretty straightforward. Thomas wanted evidence, he got evidence and believed. Plus he used his brain and realised that the evidence led to only one sensible conclusion – that Jesus is Lord and God (and not only in a generic way but personally for Thomas: my Lord and my God!).

And we could have stopped there but Jesus has something to say:

John 20:29    Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now what does Jesus mean by this? Is He challenging Thomas’s insistence upon evidence? Is He calling for a more vague belief that does not rely on evidence being seen? Well not quite, as John goes on to explain:

30    Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John switches the attention to us, the reader, and urges us not to be like Thomas. The thing about Thomas was that he already had enough evidence – he had it in the testimony of the other disciples who told him about seeing the raised Jesus; countless accounts of something that he could rely upon and, as a result, believe. When Jesus speaks of “those who have not seen and yet have believed” He has this in mind; the testimony about Jesus passed on to those who have not seen with their own eyes.

John then adds weight to this by explaining the whole rationale for writing his gospel. He has recorded “signs” (miracles that Jesus performed and other events) that more than demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Just like Thomas ought to have heard the testimony and believed, so we can hear it and know for sure ourselves.

So Thomas stands not as the patron saint of doubters, but as a figure who announces in his own end of doubt that nobody need doubt again. There is more than enough evidence about who Jesus is in the testimony of the New Testament and the writers compile all the different eye witness accounts so that we who have not seen can still believe with total confidence.

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  1. neil payne

    very good words we have 2 thomas,s in our family and prayed for them today’

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