I Will Not Believe

Like most human beings, I’m very sympathetic to the disciple Thomas. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading recounted the story of Thomas’ iconic doubt – his declaration to his friends (who declared Christ risen because they had seen him) that “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn. 20:25).

My typical “go-to” thought on this episode has always been, Who could blame the guy?  It’s only human to not accept that dead people come back to life. It’s only human to think that perhaps your friends are simply believing what they want to believe. It’s only human to doubt.

But this year it struck me how defiant Thomas was in his declaration, how he limited himself.

I will not believe.

Thomas had conditions for believing – three of them. Perhaps those conditions were not entirely unreasonable. Perhaps they were not unreasonable at all! But he intractably declared that if these conditions were not met, he would not believe.

When we draw lines in the sand, we box ourselves in. We tell God what is possible. We tell God what we will and will not believe. We don’t leave room for wild and unimaginable (and true) things like resurrection, incarnation, transformation and salvation. We draw a line, and we stay on the safe side.

It’s a shame to miss out on so much.

I’m still sympathetic to Thomas because I know I have my own conditions, my own demands. We all do. Can we be more aware of them? Can we try to let them go? Can we stop drawing lines so God can tell us the truth? Can we believe based on the word of another? Can we let the unimaginable be...real?

Jesus had sympathy for Thomas, too. He made a special trip out to see him. He invited Thomas to have his conditions met – see the marks, put your fingers here, place your hand here, in my side. “Believe,” he urged Thomas.

Jesus won’t give up on us, even if our faith is limited. But how free and wise and faithful we can be, if we believe without conditions.  How free and wise and faithful we can be if we place no limits on what God can do, or where he might be, or how the declaration “He is Risen!” may play out in our own lives.

There are many ways to place our hands in the side of Jesus, close to his heart. So in the spirit of Easter, let us not limit God, or ourselves.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,  Francois-Joseph Navez, 1823.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Francois-Joseph Navez, 1823.