Doubting Thomas, or Reasonable Thomas?

Today the Episcopal Church celebrates the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.  Today is also the historic date for Thomas’ day in the Roman & Anglican churches, but they’ve all since moved it to July 3rd, presumably to get him to a place in the year less cluttered with Advent and Christmas goings-on.  So for those who read this and follow a more modern Prayer Book, or are Roman Catholic, well, humor me on this one and pretend December 21st = July 3rd.  What follows is an approximation of what my homily from early this morning at my church’s Wednesday morning Eucharist service, celebrating St. Thomas Day.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams invents a nifty little critter called the Babel Fish.  It feeds on verbal sound waves and excretes telepathic brain waves such that if one were to stick a Babel Fish into one’s ear, one would immediately be able to understand all forms of spoken communication.  In a side note, he observes that the Babel Fish is definitive proof of the non-existence of God, and the argument goes something like this:

  1. The odds of something as mindblowingly useful as the Babel Fish having evolved naturally that it must’ve been created by some sort of god.
  2. But, says man, proof denies faith, and without faith God is nothing.
  3. Thus, the Babel Fish proves God exists, and therefore He doesn’t.

The humor is classic, but it touches on the ever-thorny “faith vs. reason” debate that so many people throw around and misunderstand.  Our issue with the Babel Fish argument is step #2 – does prof deny faith?  Can we reasonably question our faith?

In Anglicanism, the corner of the Church I call home, there is a clear place for Reason.  Richard Hooker’s “three-legged stool” illustration has been used (and horribly abused) for years: Scripture + Tradition + Reason.  Certainly this concept has been misunderstood by many, especially in the past couple centuries.  The order matters: scripture, then tradition, then reason; they are not equals!  But however you slice it, Anglicanism has a thing for intellectualism; it’s a noteable strength and weakness of our tradition.  In a sense, “doubting” Thomas is something of a protoype here.

In the familiar story of Thomas interacting with the risen Christ, we are sometimes too quick to put Thomas down.  Consider what happened shortly before – the women who met Jesus in the garden ran to tell the Apostles, and they didn’t believe either!  Only Peter and John had enough hope/curiosity/faith to run to the tomb and investigate the women’s claim.  So Thomas was in good company.

What makes Thomas’ doubt a noteable story is Jesus’ response to it.  As the 1662 BCP puts it, Jesus “suffer[ed his] holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful.”  He came alongside Thomas and used this opportunity to strengthen his faith by offering his wounds for inspection.  Certainly, Jesus expressed the new beatitude “blessed are they who have not seen and yet (will) believe,” which rebukes Thomas in one sense.  But it’s also an encouragement to us – we are those people who don’t get to see the risen Christ in person.  And Thomas has shown us that it’s okay to doubt and question – there is a way to do that faithfully.  He didn’t reject the news of the resurrection outright, he made room for proof, and God accommodated that.  I don’t mean to say that God will work a miracle every time we question something, but there are miracles out there to strengthen us, and there is room for intellectualism in faith.

Consider especially the outcome of Thomas’ doubt and receiving of proof: “My Lord and my God!”  This confession of Jesus’ identity is one of the most profound statements in the Gospels, up there with Peter’s earlier confession, “You are the Christ, son of the living God.”  His doubt yielded a confession – a strengthened faith.

One of the ways we can strengthen our faith in this season of Advent is by rehearsing the Christmas Story – the birth of Christ and all that took place around that event.  It can be wearying if we let it get to us, hearing it over and over again in songs, advent calendars, pageants, concerts, sermons, and whatever else.  But if we listen to these repetitions with ears of faith, we can use them to shore up our faith, for we live in a world that very much works to destroy faith.

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection:
Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God,
that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight.
Almighty and everliving God, who for the more confirmation of the faith didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ,
that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved.
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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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