Without doubt, does seeing really lead to believing?

“I won’t believe it until I see it.” While society has taken the disciple Thomas and uses him as an example of what not to be like. One has to stop and think about the fact that the scripture passage in which Thomas says, “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.” reveals so much more than “don’t be a doubting Thomas.”

The disciples are locked away in the upper room, but Thomas isn’t with them when Jesus appears. This suggests that Thomas had to have some level of courage and faith to have left the safety of the upper room where they had all been hiding out of fear.

Also, given all of the circumstances, it seems reasonable that Thomas, or anyone in his shoes, would question or have a hard time believing that Jesus appeared. Scripture states that Jesus showed his hands and his side to the disciples who were there in the upper room. This is curious. The other disciples had the benefit of not only seeing Jesus, but also seeing proof that it was really Jesus. Thomas did not have either. Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side without them asking for proof. In essence, they are no different than Thomas, they did not believe without seeing either.

I cannot help but wonder if this passage would even be in the Bible if Thomas was not honest about his doubt, and instead responded, “How wonderful!” when the disciples told him that Jesus appeared to them. Thomas’ honesty is striking. He did not hide his doubt, but instead he was truthful, he made himself vulnerable, and gave voice to it.

As a result, look at what happens. Jesus appears again, a week later, to the disciples, including Thomas. While Jesus speaks about believing without seeing, He is not mad at Thomas and doesn’t kick him out of the “posse” for his doubt. Instead, Jesus meets Thomas where he is and gives him what he needs to believe and to trust. Jesus reveals the truth directly to him. Had Thomas denied or hidden his doubt…had he not given voice to it, the outcome would have been much different. Thomas would not have shared the experience of the Risen Lord in the upper room.

So, does seeing really lead to believing? No, but experience does.

“The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” – Peter Abelard, philosopher and theologian

Doubting_Thomas_By_Guercino
Doubting Thomas by Guercino

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
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.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

-John 20:19-31

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