john davies
notes from a small curate

    Thomas - I'll believe it when I see it

    Good Shepherd 18/4/2004

    Acts 5.27-32, John 20.19-31

    "I'll believe it when I see it." - Those words have made Thomas, son of Didymus, one of the disciples of Jesus, world-famous. Usually for the wrong reasons - like Judas we tend to think of him as one who got it wrong; people have given him the nickname, Doubting Thomas, as if those who call him that have never had any doubts in their lives.

    But this morning I'd like us to think together about what Thomas said. "I'll believe it when I see it." - we hear that expression a lot. We all use it ourselves.

    We might give some thought to the times we have used that expression. And we might ask ourselves whether it's been wrong or right to say it. I think if we do that we'll learn quite a lot more about Thomas than we thought we knew. Because after all Thomas was just someone like you and me - an ordinary person who found himself devoted to a most extraordinary person, Jesus.

    We might also spend a while asking ourselves about our own doubts - our doubts about Jesus, perhaps, or just as likely doubts about ourselves. Thomas's story might help us to know what we can do with them when they surface; might help us to understand how Jesus responds to those who doubt.
    But first of all, "I'll believe it when I see it." Thomas said it when his friends told him they had seen Jesus, back from the dead. We might say it when we hear a police chief say they're going to put more officers on the beat, or when the council say "We'll be round straightaway to do those repairs." Or there may be deeper, more personal things we say it about, more crucial times in our lives. When do you say it?

    Discussion [1] ... in which people talked of using"I'll believe it when I see it" in various situations:
    When a son promises to visit - but the mother knows he won't: the words express sadness;
    Asking a daughter to tidy her room - she won't: the words express impotence;
    Waiting for hospital appointments through delays and administative mix-ups: the words express frustration and fears;

    Conclusion - the expression "I'll believe it when I see it" has various meanings; not necessarily a statement of unbelief: For instance, Thomas could have been meaning, "I can't wait to see what you've seen," - an expression of excitement at the prospect of seeing Jesus alive again....

    Sometimes people of faith will doubt. Like the motley slave Moses, refusing to believe that God was asking him to be leader of the people. Like the Psalmist, wrapped up in darkness and waiting for God to bring light, singing "How long, O Lord?" Like Galileo whose investigations led him to challenge the view that the Sun rotates round the Earth, and who died broken-hearted, accused of heresy by the church.

    We might look at these three cases, and ask did their doubts mean they had they lost their faith in God? Or were their doubts normal, questions which actually helped them to grow in their understanding of God, and themselves and the world?

    The Christian writer Os Guinness has written books on doubt [2]. He explains: "If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt... There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the stronger for understanding and resolving doubt."

    Discussion ... in which people shared examples of times of doubt that have actually helped them to grow in their faith:
    Through sickness, saying, "Where are you God?";
    Through bereavement, with anger and bitterness and "Why me?"
    Finding that in time God responds to our calls; that through scripture God speaks directly to us; that eventually God becomes real to us again...

    How did Jesus treat Thomas the doubter?

    Of all the disciples Jesus only let Thomas touch him.
    Mary in the garden - "Do not touch me."
    Disciples in the upper room - showed them his hands and his side; breathed on them.
    He said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

    Jesus shared more intimacy with Thomas than with anyone who saw him risen from the dead. He must have had special feelings for this man bold enough to express his doubts.

    In a way Thomas was no different from any of the other disciples. They all believed it because they saw it. When Jesus said, "Because you have seen me, you have believed;" that applied to all of them really.

    Quite often Jesus' words here are taken as some sort of criticism or rebuke; but they needn't be: I like to think Jesus wanted to emphasise the second part of what he said: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

    That's us. We share the blessing Thomas and the disciples had that day. Though we didn't have Jesus breathe on us, like they did, he does give us the Holy Spirit just as he gave it to them. Though we don't have Jesus voice speaking directly to us, like they did, he does give us the words of scripture to guide us on our way:

    "These are written," says John, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

    Perhaps what we've heard and read today will help us be faithful even in our doubts, and as we stand to say the creed in a few moments we might also say in our hearts, a prayer which Thomas might have said, "Lord, I believe: help thou my unbelief." [3]

    [1] At the Church of the Good Shepherd people are used to participating in sermons; the preacher's role to encourage each other to help apply the text to their real-life experiences and feelings. Previous vicar Tim Stratford wrote about this approach in a Grove Booklet, Interactive Preaching - Opening the Word then Listening. This is one of my first attempts at this here.
    [2] Oz Guinness, God in the Dark
    [3] Actually spoken by a man with a demon-possessed son, in Mark 9:24.