Doubt and belief

A couple of suspicious folks once doubted Lynn Anderson’s value as a Christian speaker when the latter touted “Doubting Thomas” in a presentation at our church in Delaware.  “That man Lynn Anderson,” they accused, “doesn’t know if he believes.”  Of course that wasn’t true; it was merely that Lynn was trying to help people deal with honest doubts that occur from time to time during life.

Now comes Leroy Garrett, a man who, in his mid-90s, ought to know by now whether he believes or not.  And believe he does.  Yet he also gives credence to ol’ Thomas’s apparent doubt in the recent essay “An Overlooked Beatitude.”

. . .  There are other beatitudes in the New Testament with which we are less familiar, such as Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” and Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” There is yet another with which we are even more unfamiliar. I am calling this one an “overlooked” beatitude. It is in John 20:29: “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

   You will recall the story. We call him “doubting Thomas,” which, due to the profound faith he manifested, may be unfair. The risen Christ had appeared to his disciples — apparently on Easter evening– behind closed doors. They were locked in “for fear of the Jews.” He showed them the marks of crucifixion on his hands and side, but not his feet as is commonly assumed. In Roman crucifixions the feet were only loosely tied. Jesus blessed them and breathed on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. He then disappeared as quickly as he had appeared, the locked doors never being opened (John 20:19-23).

   But Thomas was not present on this occasion. We may assume that he was not as fearful of the Jews as the others, and that he chose to grieve alone. . . . 

   When they told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he responded with “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hands into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). This is not necessarily weak faith, and you will notice that when eight days later Jesus appeared to the same group, with Thomas present, again behind locked doors, he does not fault Thomas for a lack of faith.

   Jesus might have agreed with Tennyson that “There is more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds.” And it was surely honest doubt with Thomas, who might have supposed the other disciples had seen an apparition. That his crucified Lord was alive again was too good to be true. He would not believe until he had hard evidence. What is so bad about that? If we call the brother “doubting Thomas,” we ought to make it “honest doubting Thomas.”

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