Faith, Doubt, And What Lies Apart From Them: A Sunday Rumination

     [I wrote the essay below five years ago, in ruminating on another Divine Mercy Sunday. Having reviewed it, I find that it still serves the occasion — FWP]


     Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus,
was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord. But he said to them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.
     And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.
     Thomas answered, and said to him: My Lord, and my God.
     Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.

     [The Gospel According to John, 20:24-30, Douay-Rheims translation]

     Today is “officially” called Divine Mercy Sunday, but I tend to think of it as “Doubting Thomas’s Sunday.” The story of “Doubting Thomas,” given above, is the heart of the traditional Gospel reading for the day. It makes Thomas, one of the Apostles to whom Jesus gave the Great Commission, sound unusually skeptical. Hardheaded. A man who wants evidence for the propositions he’s expected to accept.

     But one little snippet from the above ought to be appreciated in its full significance:

     The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord.

     The other Apostles were in the same boat as Thomas. They had already seen what Thomas demanded to see. He wasn’t doubting Jesus; he was doubting the testimony of the other Apostles. He withheld the investment of his faith until he was presented with the evidence that they had already confronted.

     What could be more reasonable? Remember your C.S.I. maxims: “People lie; evidence doesn’t.” Thomas was no more skeptical than any Jew of classical Judea naturally would have been. Jesus rose from the dead? And you saw Him? The hell you say! When’s He coming to dinner?

     And indeed, Jesus did return to the locked room, once again miraculously entering it without opening the door, and gave Thomas the evidence the others had already received. But for the risen Christ, the Son of God to do that was easily within His powers. He’d already done it once before, hadn’t He? So He did it again, that Thomas might be united in faith with his fellows, and might have faith in his fellows as well.

     We stand two thousand years down the river of time from the events of the Gospels. We have not seen the risen Christ in His glorified body; yet we believe. We have not placed a finger in the nail holes, nor thrust a hand into His side; yet we believe. The great majority of us have witnessed no miracles: i.e., no apparent violations of the laws of Nature in obedience to One who stands above them; yet we believe.

     Why we believe is personal. And of course, why others disbelieve is equally personal. I’ve made that point before. There’s nothing to be done about it. Like Thomas, the skeptic insists on being shown the evidence before he will invest his credulity.

     The evidence is strong that Jesus of Nazareth lived when and where the Gospels said He lived. The evidence is strong that He did all that the Gospels said He did. The evidence is strong that He suffered, died, and rose again to demonstrate to His followers the truth of His New Covenant and His authority to proclaim it. The evidence is strong…but it doesn’t constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     The legal phrase is “persuasive but not conclusive.” The evidence for something miraculous that no living eye has seen can never be conclusive. It’s in the nature of the mind, and of the universe in which we reside, that there will always be an alternative explanation for any given event, including events one has personally witnessed. The skeptic will always be able to defend his position.

     That doesn’t erase the evidence.

     For me, the convincing factor was this:

     Of course no non-Christian source would fully confirm the Gospels. Anyone who wrote objectively of the miracles, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ, reporting them as observed, well-testified facts, would have to be a Christian. He couldn’t do so otherwise. So the lack of non-Christian confirmations means nothing.
     It could all be true. It can’t be disproved. All it requires is that I allow that there might be a God — a Being above and apart from temporal reality, to which temporal reality is subject. There could be. That can’t be disproved either.
     Men went to horrible deaths rather than renounce it. Many men.

     But of course, the skeptic is free to dismiss that, as well. All he has to do is disbelieve two millennia of recorded history about the martyrdoms of Christian saints, especially the martyrdoms of the Apostles. As Christians have no better evidence to offer for their faith than that, we must agree to disagree.

     However, the evidence is not conclusive, but it is strong. Therefore the skeptic owes us the assumption that we are personally sincere about having accepted what it implies. To mock and deride believers, or to accuse us of hypocrisy, simply because we have accepted what the skeptics have not is, as our British cousins would say, not quite cricket. That having been said, there are a lot of skeptics doing exactly that.

     Jesus forgave Thomas for doubting the testimony of the other Apostles. Jesus can forgive contemporary skeptics, too. A skeptic who lives a good life and harms no innocent will enjoy the same reward as any believer who conforms to the Commandments. Yes, “No man comes to the Father except through Me,” but then, we do not know where He is…or where He is not.

     May God bless and keep you all!