Find an audio recording of today’s passage – you can find them at Bible Gateway – and listen to it with your imagination as well as year ears.
Sit quietly for a moment and notice your breathing. When you have found some space, listen to the passage and imagine yourself in the room.
- I wonder who you were
- I wonder what you said
- I wonder what Jesus said to you
Thomas was a logical, rational person, and he simply didn’t believe it when people told him strange stories about Jesus being alive, however much he would have liked to. He was a sceptic and Jesus understood that. So when Thomas missed the weekly home-group meeting where Jesus has done the ‘peace be with you’ thing, Jesus very helpfully popped back the week after and gave Thomas the chance to do some rather yukky hands-on testing.
I like Thomas. I too am a sceptic. I’m a card-carrying, conspiracy-theory-mashing, pseudo-science-crunching sceptic and I’m proud of it. Crop circles are pranks, ghost photos are dust in the flash, the earth is 4.5 billion years old and not flat and yes, we did land on the moon. With a research degree in mathematical computing from mechanical engineering, I’m about a sciency and rational as you can get. I even pick Spock up in his logic occasionally.
And I am currently studying theology.
Isn’t that a bit … well … inconsistent?
After all, Christianity is full of non-sciency stuff that can’t be proven; worse, contradicts well-known science facts – like, ooh I dunno, dead people stay dead, just to pick a random example. So how can a rational, logical person like me possibly believe all this crazy resurrection stuff? I haven’t had Thomas’ advantage of actually poking the wounds.
I’m not into the ‘Sunday Christian’ thing, where I believe six impossible things before communion, then don my rational head for college on Monday. Nope. If this Christian thing is true, it is true all the time, Monday as well as Sunday.
Neither is it like watching Harry Potter, (which I binge-watched with my children over the Easter break – and yes, Christians can watch HP without endangering their immortal souls). When I immerse myself in a world like HP or Lord of the Rings or My Little Pony (shudder), I suspend disbelief for a while. I don’t ask what a boggart should look like if several people are watching it at the same time or how come a unicorn can sew a dress. I just accept that it can so that I can enjoy the story.
Christianity is not like that. We don’t have to suspend disbelief and pretend to be certain of things that at the back of our minds we know cannot be true. But neither do we have to reject science on the basis of what we read in the Bible. When Ps 104 and Job 9 state that the earth rests on pillars and cannot be moved, they are not making serious statements of astrophysical fact. Instead they are poetically communicating the idea that ‘the world God made is a very reliable place’, and that’s true enough.
Do I believe that the Bible is true? Yep. Do I believe that Jonah prayed to Lord from inside a fish? Nope. For me that comes in the same category and the earth resting on pillars. It was never intended to be taken literally.* The truth contained in the words is not the same as the literal story. Truths like: ‘You can’t get away from God’, ‘God knows and cares although you do right stupid things’, ‘Even the biggest twits get second chances’ (both the Ninevites and Jonah). All of these are the truths communicated by Jonah, and we don’t need a super-sized fish with a completely unique arrangement of internal organs for this.
But that doesn’t mean I cut out from my Bible everything that does not conform to present scientific understanding. Neither do I feel the need to explain away the walls of Jericho by a sonic boom. Plenty of stuff that is commonplace now would have been called witchery 500 years ago, and I’m sure the same will be true in another 500. So I don’t have a problem with God doing stuff that looks like magic to me. Like coming back from the dead.
Sure, Jesus contradicts the law that dead things stay dead. But water contradicts the law that things expand when heated. The hydra contradicts the law that animals grow old and die. The seahorse contradicts the law that females give birth, and so on. There are plenty of others. Exceptions seem to be (like in English grammar) the rule.
Scotty famously said, ‘Ye cannae change the laws of physics, Jim”, but we do that all the time. Anytime we find a phenomenon that does not fit the current laws, we re-write them. And if we can, why not God?
And that’s how come I’m OK with both.
I’m OK with science and I’m OK with faith.
I’m OK with scepticism and I’m OK with belief.
If science teaches us one thing it’s that we really don’t know anything at all. My current bed-time reading is a quantum physics primer, and the stories of entangled particles, collapsing waveforms and polarised photons in superposition have many similarities to the reading today.
In that the natural response is ‘Huh?’
You seriously expect me to believe that my cookie jar is both full and empty until I look inside it? That’s crazy! Yup. Nuts. Unfortunately, it seems, also true.
You expect me to believe that a guy died and came back to life? Mad! Yup. But why not? It’s no madder than quantum tunnelling. Science is full of the weirdly incomprehensible which, for ordinary folks like me, have to be accepted by faith.
Oh – there, I’ve said it! Science and faith. Not opposites, just different expressions of how we see the world. We need both for a 3D view. Scepticism and belief, both OK. Both needed.
Jesus said it was OK for Thomas to be a sceptic, but he also commended those who believed without needing the proof. Which is just as well for folks like you and me, who missed both home-group meetings.
(*) Your mileage may vary. I understand that folks have different views of the literalism of parts of the Bible like this.
What do you think about Jonah? (Not what you have been told to think). Whatever your answer, remember the God is OK with that.
John 20:19-31 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Image: remake of The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio
Photographer unknown. If you have information, I’d be happy to know