The questions are seemingly endless. How much can we trust the testimony of those interviewed? What exactly did the eyewitnesses report? Does the report detail practices that are simply “business as usual” or did more powerful forces collude to bring about a surprising outcome? Where exactly is the burden of proof, how much of it is necessary to change people’s original opinions, and what kind of evidence is necessary to justify the conclusions on both sides of the issue?
No, I’m not talking about the Mueller report. Instead, I’m talking about the Gospel.
In last week’s Easter Sunday Gospel message, we heard about Mary Magdalene finding the stone rolled away from Jesus’ empty tomb. That evidence led her to conclude that, “’They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him’” (John 20: 2). This prompts the other disciples to examine the scene of the crime for themselves where they saw the kind same evidence: the stone moved away, the tomb abandoned, the burial cloths discarded, and the head covering rolled up in a ball. But instead of drawing the same conclusion as Mary Magdalene, the unnamed disciple who got to the tomb first after hearing the news “saw and believed” (8). In essence, instead of finding that the evidence suggests criminal behavior, this disciple determined that a larger force colluded to bring about a truly exceptional outcome.
Then this Sunday we’ll hear the quintessential Gospel reading about the importance of “evidence.” Thomas had not been present when the risen Christ appeared to the frightened disciples, and he refused to trust their eyewitness accounts. Firm in his I-Need-Proof stance, he told the others, “’Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (25).
Sure enough, Jesus appears again to the disciples the following week and invites Thomas to touch the nail marks on his hands and put his own hand into his side. Naturally, Thomas is won over in a big way. Jesus responds by saying, “’Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’” (29).
To be honest, I think “Doubting Thomas” has gotten an unjustifiably bad rap throughout Christian history. What’s so wrong about wanting to see the proof? I mean, is it really a virtue to believe something simply because others believe it and say that you should do the same? I don’t really think so. I’m actually a Doubting Thomas fan if for no other reason than I see a lot of myself in him. At an early age, I asked my parents to show me the evidence for how Santa’s sleigh could be propelled without any known fuel and stop at every home in the world in one night. When they came up with their “scientific” explanation of how reindeer excrement has properties related to combustion and how traveling faster than the speed of light bends the space-time continuum such that Christmas Eve really lasts a full week in real time for Santa, they bought themselves one more year of my childhood belief. But the following December, even energized deer poop and supersonic time warps couldn’t close the deal.
Despite my own insistence on seeing the evidence before drawing a conclusion, I am still a person of faith. Some might say that’s a contradiction in terms. But to them I say, what a load of reindeer excrement. I believe that there are different kinds of evidence. Insisting on the kind that can be experienced only through the five senses makes sense when drawing conclusions about climate change or the use of vaccines or the merits of the Mueller report. But seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching aren’t the only ways to “be” in the world. In my opinion, some of the others provide the most compelling evidence for the existence of God.
Given this, you won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t love the line Jesus says to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” I think that Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as a man who understands practical realities and has good common sense. I have a hard time believing that he would happy about any faith that is uncritical, unquestioned, and completely unexamined. After all, why would Jesus have returned to the upper room? Just to stick it to Thomas for missing the boat? I hardly think so. Blind, unthinking naivete is no virtue.
I will continue to be a Show-Me-The-Evidence kind of gal. I will continue to be a fan of Doubting Thomas. And I will continue to have faith in the Resurrection. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.”