Those of us who grew up with the felt-board-derived theology of Sunday School likely learned a singular predicate when it comes to St. Thomas: doubting. We were warned, extensively, to not be a "Doubting Thomas," as if between that and the Catholics the dogmatic underwriting of our Faith suffered the greatest threat. Many of us only heard the story of Thomas from John 20, as if his role as a disciple was destined from the beginning to be a mechanism of instruction and warning against uncertainty. As I look back on those formative years, it occurs to me that we never even bothered to read much of the passage concerning Thomas's doubt. We glossed over rather quickly the fact that he doubts the resurrection of Jesus -- easily enough identified as a, "NO!" -- but we didn't talk much about why he doubts or what could have motivated it.
But that's a bit ahead of where I want to go.
Thomas doesn't only appear in John 20, he appears a handful of places in Scripture. One of the most moving places, for me, is in John 11. Up to this point we have been told that the Pharisees were planning to kill Jesus so a portion of His ministry has been spent away from their reach. When He learns of Lazarus's illness and then prophecies His death, He makes to journey to Bethany to see His dead friend. (And, of course, to raise him from the dead.)
Aware of the danger facing them, it is Thomas who speaks up. The Scripture says, "Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, so that we may die with him.'" (John 11:16 NASB)
This is not the Thomas we often spoke of in Sunday School. Here he sounds like a Peter, a John, one of the disciples we're supposed to want to be like. He does not seem to be the doubter here, but the certain man ready to face death for the sake of his Lord. How then, ten chapters later, has his image so changed? How does Thomas become only the "doubter" and this part of his story no longer matter?
Fast forward, now to the scene of Thomas's doubt. Jesus has just appeared to His disciples, resurrected, with a notable exception: "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'" (John 20:24-25, NASB)
It is from this passage we call Thomas the doubter, for after it Jesus appears and says to him that those who believe and have not seen are quite blessed. (v. 29) But have we perhaps given the saint a bit of a bum rap?
True, Thomas should have, in the theoretically perfect world of Faith, simply believed the disciples as we all should now; but, I'd like to extend a bit more grace to him.
I am struck by his sheer humanness and a rather, perhaps trite, reality: he didn't get to see Jesus. All the rest of the disciples got to see Him, but Thomas didn't. The gravity of that shouldn't be passed over. Imagine being the one who didn't get to see Him. He watched Him die, he watched Him be buried, and then he doesn't get to see Him alive.
I don't know that I wouldn't have doubted myself.
I want to take Thomas and wrap him in a blanket, to let him cry as I'm sure he wanted to when faced with the possibility that Jesus was alive and well but He wasn't showing Himself to him. My heart breaks for him. I want to cry with him. I think of all the people who don't get to see, who aren't able to accept without some kind of evidence. And maybe, what I need to recall more than I ignore, is that they have their reasons to doubt.
Doubt isn't ok. It's not something to be celebrated. But it's also not something to be condemned through anger and shutting people down. We (read that as I) need to listen closely. We need to hear the pain. We need to understand the wounds on the heart.
Because Thomas doubted, yes, but he was not the sum of his doubt. He was the sum of who he was: willing to die with the Saviour and then broken when the Saviour lived and he didn't get to see.
I imagine the thought was simple: "Why didn't I get to see?" It's not an unfair thought. The task at hand now is to be the sight to those who doubt, to be Him, in my meager and pathetic way, to those who don't simply believe or who have not been blessed to see.
It's complicated, it's emotional, but I know I love Thomas and I want to learn how to love the Thomases of the world better.
Addendum: To those who came to this post before I added the clarification, yes, I am speaking of St. Thomas the Apostle. St. Thomas Aquinas and I still have a bit to go . . . But I'm trying.