Thomas. Poor Thomas. Somewhere in some sermon someone labeled him “Doubting Thomas” and the nickname stuck. It’s true he did doubt. But I think there was more to it than that. There was more to his questioning. I don’t think he lacked faith. I think he lacked imagination.
There are few clues about Thomas in the Bible. There was the time Jesus was talking in all eloquence about the home he was going to prepare. Though the imagery wasn’t easy for Thomas to grasp, he was trying his best. I imagine Thomas getting caught up in Jesus’ description of a mansion on St. Thomas Avenue. Just as Thomas is getting the picture, Jesus assumes, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas gets jolted back into reality, looks around at the blank expressions on his friends’ faces and blurts out, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Thomas spoke his mind. He’s the kind of guy that, if you don’t understand something, just say so! His imagination could only stretch so far.
And then there was the time that Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be with Lazarus even though Lazarus was already dead and buried. Thomas couldn’t imagine what Jesus was referring to. All of the disciples thought he was crazy and told him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and you are going there again?” Thomas, being the loyal friend he was, wasn’t going to let Jesus face them alone. In fact, it was Thomas who said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Not much imagination, but certainly a lot of loyalty!
Perhaps it was this sense of loyalty that explains why Thomas wasn’t in the upper room when Jesus appeared to his disciples the day of all of the wild events (John 20:24-31). I think Thomas was stunned and overwhelmed by the death of Jesus. Even though he couldn’t quite comprehend all of Jesus’ metaphors, he was still willing to go to the end with him. He had never expected the end to come so abruptly and prematurely. As a result, Thomas was left with a lot of unanswered questions.
On the one hand, the idea of a resurrected Jesus was too farfetched for a dogmatic Thomas. His limited imagination left little room for razzle-dazzle magic. Besides, he wasn’t about to let himself be disappointed again. Yet, on the other hand, his loyalty made him yearn to believe. As long as there was the slimmest thread of hope, he wanted to believe.
His turmoil came from a fusion between his lack of imagination and his unwavering loyalty. He was too honest with life to be gullible and yet too loyal to Jesus to be unfaithful. In the end, it was this realistic devotion that caused him to utter the now famous condition, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my fingers in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
I guess you could say he had doubt. But it was a different kind of doubting. Thomas’ doubt didn’t spring from mistrust or willful disbelief. Thomas was reluctant to believe the impossible fear of being hurt again.
Most of us are like that, aren’t we? In our world of budgets and technological capabilities, don’t we find it hard to trust in the unbelievable? Don’t most of us tend to scrutinize life and take cautious steps? It’s hard for us to imagine that God can surprise us. To make rooms for little miracles, well, it’s not sound, logical thinking.
As a result, we, like Thomas, find it hard to believe that God can do the very thing that God is best at: replacing death with life. Our infertile imaginations bear little hope that the improbable will occur. We, like Thomas, let our dreams fall victim to doubt.
We make the same mistake that Thomas made. We forget that “impossible” is one of God’s favorite words.
How about you? How is your imagination these days? When was the last time you let some of your dreams elbow out your logic? When was the last time you imagined the unimaginable? When was the last time you dreamed of an entire planet with no active wars? When was the last time you dared dream that people actually live out their faiths instead of creating battle lines of us vs. them?
Although it went against every logical bone is his body, Thomas said he would believe if he could have just a little proof. And Jesus, who is ever so patient with our doubts and questions, gave Thomas exactly what he requested. He extended his hand one more time. And was Thomas ever surprised! His response? “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus must have smiled. He knew that Thomas got it. Anytime you mix loyalty with a little imagination, you have a person of God. Just look at Thomas. Legend has it that he was killed in India where they tried to get him to quit talking about his home prepared in a world to come and his friend who came back from the dead.
“Impossible” is one of God’s favorite words. And God is in the business of replacing death with life.