I always thought Thomas got a bad deal. When someone hears the name “Doubting Thomas”, they almost always know the reference and what it means. “Don’t be such a doubting Thomas!” someone might say. However, some people have taken on the title of a “Doubting Thomas” as an almost badge of honor. I’m not going to believe something happened just because you say it did, I want proof that I can get my hands on. I want to touch it for myself.
Sometimes people even hold Thomas out as the oddball in the mix of the disciples. Here in the upper room all of the other disciples are saying, “we’ve seen Jesus,” and they believe but here is old sourpuss Thomas wanting to throw his rational wet blanket on the party because he does not have a blind faith. But what we don’t always hear about Thomas, is that this doubter was the first Christian missionary to India, baptizing and teaching throughout the whole country where people from that tradition are still called today St. Thomas Christians. He died a martyr’s death for the Christian faith and is buried in the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore, India.
Last week, I turned the radio to NPR and happened upon a political debate about immigration. In political debates, people will say a certain topic is a polarizing kind of topic like abortion or immigration. This means that the topic has the effect of dividing people between two different poles of the debate, either being in the pro or anti-immigration camps, like the conversation is so simple that you can define it like the Earth’s north and south magnetic poles can be defined from each other. Our friend Thomas, this disciple of Jesus, this Doubting Thomas, can be polarizing as well. People will use him as an example of being the doubting kind of person that wants to quantify and test and verify and will only believe what the eyes can see and the hands can touch vs. the “blind-faith kind of believer” that doesn’t seem to care about reality or facts or history, but simply believes,
These two camps in recent generations call this polarization the “science vs. religion” debates, but if you take it through history to its philosophical underpinnings, it is also known as the “material vs. spiritual” kind of debates. The science vs. religion debates hold these two things at opposite polar sides and says that science deals with reality and matter, facts and figures while religion deals with wish-fulfillment and desire, hopes and dreams, with science in current culture taking precedence while religion or faith becomes the delusion of the masses and uneducated.
Like all sort of polarizing debates, adherents on both sides want you to believe that you must choose one or the other side, either be black or white, pro or against immigration, for science or for religion and that there is no third way. Either you must have blind faith and only believe in spiritual things or you must have blind reason and only believe in material things.
But if this were the case, Jesus of all people who you would think would be on the spiritual side of the debate doesn’t say to Doubting Thomas go stand in the corner, close your eyes and imagine I’m here but tells Thomas to touch, feel and see. Jesus in his resurrected body stands there with his disciples and openly invites Thomas to take His hands in his own hands and to even place his fingers inside the holes left in his hands from the cruel nails that held him to the tree. Jesus says, look here is the gash where a Roman spear went through my side after I had died on the cross, take your hand and physically place it in my side. What else is Jesus inviting Thomas to do than to feel, touch, see, test and quantify his resurrected body. Touch and feel and believe.
Christianity is and always has been a thinking persons faith. It is a faith grounded in history, taught by eyewitnesses and has been one the greatest driving forces behind scientific pursuit. Think of some of the scientists of old who were devout Christians including Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Kelvin, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Mendel or Boyle. Or modern scientists like Dr. Francis Collins who headed the research team that decoded the human genome and is the Director of the National Institute of Health or Dr. John Polkinghorne who was a leading theoretical physicist and then studied to become an Anglican Priest while pursuing his scientific inquiry. These scientists saw faith and science not only as complementary to each other but saw science as a means of worshipping God through understanding His creation. One of my favorite quotes that summarizes this idea is from the church father St. Anselm, when he said, “Faith seeks understanding.” God made us both spiritual and material, mind and spirit, and our faith encompasses every part of who and what we are.
But, if that is the case, then we cannot take the once in history of the world event like the resurrection and boil it down to a blind faith vs. science kind of argument. We actually have to start contemplating an honest look at what the resurrection is and claims to be. That is the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a historical event that happened in a certain place and time and that has placed a claim upon all of humanity in this same person Jesus. As world-renowned genetic scientist Dr. Francis Collins said of his own faith, “I believe in the literal rising of the body of Christ. It’s the cornerstone of my Christian faith.”
The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter morning is a dividing line in the entirety of human and indeed world history. You can try to disprove the historical claims, and many have tried to no avail while at the same time leading historians and scientists have delved the resurrection’s historical depths and come to faith because of its historical basis in the real world. You can try and sit on the fence about it and use excuses like the faith vs. science kind of excuse, but you would also be trying to match your argument against some of the leading scientists in the world who are devout followers of Christ. Or you can accept Jesus’ invitation to touch, see and feel. To explore, learn and grow. To be both spiritual and material in a world that tells you not to be. “To taste and see that the Lord is good.” To be a Thomas who sought with soul and mind. Do not disbelieve but believe.