The Legacy of Thomas
John 20:24-29 relates the story of “doubting” Thomas:
But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!”
After eight days His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!”
Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop your unbelief, but believe.”
Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Note that at the beginning of the passage, the other eleven disciples repeatedly urged Thomas to believe them, but like a good scientist, he refused to believe something so outlandish without direct observation of the critical details.
And so Jesus, in an act of extraordinary grace, obliged him. The Resurrected God Almighty condescended to reveal Himself personally to one of his twelve closest disciples when he couldn’t believe his compatriots.
Why did Jesus do it?
Ephesians 2:19-20 states that the prophets and apostles, along with Christ form the foundation of the Church. In short, Thomas was needed to be one of the foundational pillars of the spread of the Gospel. Tradition states that Thomas was the primary evangelist to India and the East, and that he, along with the others, except for John, were to be martyred for the faith. Christ, knowing what He was commissioning Thomas to, needed Thomas to be fully and irrevocably convinced of Christ’s identity, power and resurrection.
What is truly remarkable is that this very passage is coming to literal life around us today on a much bigger stage.
In the intervening 2000 years, we have essentially had an absence of direct revelation from God on the scale of a resurrected Christ bodily walking about the planet, until now, and the scale is universal.
The Bible is the only major holy book that describes the universe as having a distinct and ultimate beginning ex nihilo. This has actually proved to be problematic for much of that time, as conventional wisdom logically implied and insisted on an eternal universe—“nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could.”
Even Newton’s own research seemed to imply an eternal universe, which was a problem for the Christian and ‘greatest scientist.’
Then, about 100 years ago, a confluence of theory and experiment began to suggest some disturbing information to the atheistic scientific establishment that the universe had a beginning. (I’m going to brush with broad strokes, but everything here is easily found in any book on cosmology.)
Einstein’s theory of relativity had some implications that the universe was not eternal, and in fact was likely expanding from a common point in space and time, which was ‘obviously’ not true, so he merely created a factor he called the ‘cosmological constant,’ to act as a damper for this aspect of the theory. Years later, after he realized he was wrong, admitted that it was the greatest mistake of his life.
A few years after he first proposed his theory, an astronomer, Edwin Hubble noticed some disturbing things through his telescope. The galaxies in the universe, all of them, were moving, not only away from earth, but away from each other, with the furthest ones moving fastest. He noticed that it wasn’t simply that the galaxies were trucking through space, but that space itself was expanding and carrying the galaxies with it. Calculations showed that if the expansion is run in reverse, they all occupied a single point in space, smaller than an atom, at a time approximately 15 billion years ago.
The particularly galling part of this for many scientists, including Hubble, was that it confirmed a theory proposed by Georges LeMaitre, an astronomer and Catholic priest, who based his work on Einstein’s theory. Einstein was to have remarked to LeMaitre, “Your math is correct, but your physics is abominable!” Hubble even gave LeMaitre’s theory the mocking name, the “Big Bang” theory.
Astronomical and other discoveries in physics have only confirmed and strengthened the beginning of the universe as a creation event. Furthermore, these discoveries seem to be confirming more and more of the details of the Genesis narrative. This confirmation is so profound that scientists are working harder and harder to come up with theories that can explain the data while still debunking Genesis. Such theories are sounding stranger and stranger than even something as bizarre as “and God said, ‘Let there be light.’”
What happens when the universe itself suddenly reveals its nascent origins as being embraced by the hands and voice of God Himself? “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop your unbelief, but believe.”
Upon Thomas’ profession of belief, Christ went on, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This seems to be apropos for us as Thomas’ and to the 2000 years of those who believed the testimony of the apostles in spite of the science of the time, who are to receive the blessing of unseen belief.
There lies a problem for the Thomas’ who see the revelation of the cosmos yet refuse to believe, looking for the ‘man behind the curtain,’ seeking to deceive us simpletons. At what point will the evidence overcome their steadfast will towards disbelief? The warning implicit here sounds much like that of the conversation between Abraham and the rich man in Christ’s parable in Luke 16:19-31:
“Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”
Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”
“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
There yet remains at least one more question. Jesus revealed Himself so dramatically and insistently to Thomas because of the road of distress ahead of him. With such a revelation as we have today, what road lies ahead of us? Will we traverse it in the strength of conviction this revelation should embolden within us?