As I write this, the Church is celebrating the Easter season. In the days and weeks following Easter Day itself, Christians encounter the biblical narratives of the risen Jesus’ encounters with his disciples. In the Church of England, the set readings for Morning Prayer on this particular day include John’s gospel account of the disciple Thomas’ meeting with the resurrected Jesus.
At first, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples who are meeting together, but Thomas isn’t with them. They tell him what has happened, but he doesn’t believe them:
“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told 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 in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’“ (John 19.24-25).
It is from this story that we have come to know the disciple Thomas as ‘Doubting Thomas’. I, personally, think this is a bit unfair to Thomas. His friends were making an incredible, almost unbelievable, claim. Who wouldn’t want a bit of evidence in those circumstances? The Christian faith is sometimes accused of demanding ‘blind faith’, that is believing without evidence, from its adherents. The example of Thomas shows us that this is simply not true. Certainly the testimony of not just one, but all of his companions, must have been at least somewhat persuasive. Anecdotal evidence is, after all, evidence. But for Thomas it wasn’t enough. He wanted to see for himself. His friends had presented him with a theory – that Jesus, who they had seen crucified, was raised from the dead. It was a theory worth testing, and that is just what Thomas proposes. He wants to examine the evidence, and then he will decide whether to accept or reject what he has been told.
Thomas, with his scepticism, is a good model for Christians. Yes, we need to have faith, but faith is not believing without evidence or without questioning. We should have the courage and the confidence to ask questions, and to explore the evidence. Only then will we be able to provide a robust explanation of our faith to others. Thomas is also a good role model for scientists. He wanted to test the evidence for himself, he wanted to run his own experiment, if you like. And, when he saw that the evidence did, in fact, support the theory – hard to believe though it was – he accepted it.