My Lord and my God
H.G. Wells in his novel The Undying Fire has the skeptical Dr. Barrett say: “I want things I can feel and handle. I am an Agnostic by nature and habit and profession. A doubting Thomas, born and breed.” On the other hand, Dorothy Sayers in The Man Born to be King points out the irony that “the one absolutely unequivocal statement in the Gospels of the divinity of Jesus comes from Doubting Thomas.” My Lord and my God. Who is right? Is Thomas the patron saint of doubters or believers?
If I told you that I had been abducted by aliens and taken a spin in a UFO, you would probably ask me for evidence. And, of course, you would be quite right to be skeptical. All the time we have to make decisions about what to believe: we look for evidence and only believe when there is grounds for belief. We are, after all, rational creatures. We are supposed to consider available information, think, and believe only reasonable things. That is how God made us, not just Dr. Barrett or St. Thomas the Apostle, but every human being. I suppose the problem is that we are little lazy and do not want to go to the trouble to think and evaluate evidence. That is why we elect certifiable lunatics to political offices. But it is not St. Thomas’ problem.
St. Gregory the Great says that Thomas all at once lacked faith and yet believed. It was no accident that Thomas was ‘first absent and then on hearing doubted and doubting touched and on touching believed.’’ Asking questions is not the opposite of faith. In fact St. Thomas was being much more sensible than the other apostles the week before: they thought Jesus might be a ghost! Superstition is not faith. Rather as the apostle’s name sake, St. Thomas Aquinas put it: ‘superstition is a vice opposed to religion.’ You may well have to stop believing nonsense before you can start believing the truth. The way the other apostles figured out the truth was that Jesus gave them evidence, when Jesus spoke the words which only he could speak: “Peace be with you’ ‘As the Father has sent me so I send you’ ‘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 St. Gregory insists: “Thomas’ lack of faith benefits us more than does the faith of the other disciples.” Thomas doubted but Jesus did not leave him in doubt. Instead Jesus makes him a witness to the truth. It sometimes happens that I meet people who tell me that they have never for one moment doubted the truth of the Christian religion. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with that. But it does make you wonder whether they have actually confronted the mystery of Jesus Christ. God became Man; he took to himself all that is human save sin; he even took on death, a particularly horrific death on the Cross; he rose again on the third day with a body, yet a very strange body, a body which passes through closed doors and still a body which can be feed and can be touched. If you do not wonder about all that, you are probably not wondering about anything.
St. Paul tells us that faith is ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ What can be seen is not a matter of faith. So where does that leave St. Thomas the Apostle? St. Gregory explains: “Thomas saw one thing and believed another.” My Lord and my God.
Jesus is not reproaching Thomas, when he says ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Jesus is speaking to us, who have not seen. Again St. Gregory: ‘God in his mercy heals the wounds of unbelief in us.’ How has he done that? We have not seen Jesus, we have not heard him speak, we have not touched him. Our advantage or our disadvantage, take it as you will, is that we have to depend on the fourth mark of the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The apostles are our eyes, our ears, our hands, we see the resurrected Christ through them; we trust in their witness and on their authority, the authority which Jesus gave them, the grounds upon which, we say with St. Thomas::
My Lord and my God