Let Us Walk Through the Door
It was as His flesh: ours
I do love Thomas. I always have. He just wanted to see it for himself. So would I.
Let us grant that he should have known better. Let us concede that he should have trusted the word of his fellow disciples. Even so. I understand.
Once, in a pessimistic mood, he had predicted that he and everyone else might suffer the same fate as Jesus. “Let us also go,” he had said gloomily when the Master insisted on returning to hostile Judaea, “that we may die with him.” That was Thomas’s philosophy: Prepare for the worst, and the worst can’t surprise you.
But the worst had turned out to be worse than even he imagined. Stoning would have been terrible enough. Yet that would at least have been over in a few minutes. Not a drawn-out agony, a humiliation in slow motion. And all of them left behind to scatter and hide, their only cold consolation that at least they weren’t Judas.
Until. Until a miracle happened. Or so they said. But Thomas was stubborn. Prepared for the worst.
He would get what he wished for. He would feel nail prints in fleshy palms. He would feel where the spear had drawn blood and water together, that startling detail so unforgettably stamped on the gospel writer’s memory. And for his faithlessness, he would be rebuked firmly, though not ungently. And at this rebuke, he would bow his head in worship: “My Lord, and my God.”
It is an unfortunate trope in some circles to interpret that rebuke as a rebuke of any desire for evidence. To be sure, there is a particular purity of heart, a particular aura of blessing that seems to hang about those who are content to follow with the eyes of faith. And we might say for such people that they do have evidence they have simply not formulated—the kind of intuitive, inarticulate proof that bubbles up under the surface of articulate speech.
But some minds seek more. They seek common sense made rigorous. They seek the satisfaction of puzzle pieces interlocking, the Eureka! revelation when the picture of Christ’s face is revealed. And for such as these, as for all men, God has not left himself without witness.
It is academically fashionable to deny this. David Hume gave permission first. Then David Strauss, deferring to Hume. Then others deferring to Strauss, deferring to Hume. A whole great dusty cobweb of higher criticism, all ultimately traceable back to that brittle, bare assertion that nothing so extraordinary as a resurrection could be accepted on the basis of ordinary human testimony.
If the resurrection accounts were a product of legendary accretion, you would at least expect the writers to invent a more palatable resurrected Lord. Or if they were hallucinations born of grief, you would expect them to be more comforting. At the risk of nepotism, I’ll quote from an article by my parents:
…[T]he personality attributed to a post-resurrection Jesus is not inspiring, kindly, and helpful. On the contrary, he is portrayed as being very much the sort of person he always was, and no more comfortable a companion than ever: Patient but sometimes caustic, commanding and compelling but unnerving and unpredictable, a superb teacher but one not inclined to answer questions he considers impertinent or unnecessary. He responds with an almost word-for-word allusion to Thomas’s own demand: “Reach here your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side, and be not unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27). There is perhaps a touch of amusement in the tone, but the invitation is serious, too.
Such details matter enormously, contrary to the insufficient “minimalist” template on which too much stock Christian apologetics has been built. When an agnostic friend tells me he’s looked into arguments for the resurrection and found them unsatisfying, I tell him he’s probably not unreasonable, given the quality of the arguments he’s probably found. Happily, they are not the only arguments available.
But increasingly, especially among the young, I hear less ingrained skepticism that the resurrection is possible, and more simple confusion as to why it should matter if it were. So Jesus rose from the dead. So what? So who was Jesus? So what does it mean to me?
I am always touched with sadness when I hear this. I think to myself that perhaps more arguments will not be the thing for these young people. Perhaps more life lived will. And perhaps then, they will understand. They may still wonder if it happened. But they will no longer wonder why it matters.
I tell you of the Springtime of which all springtimes speak. I tell you of the world for which this world groans and toward which it strains. I tell you that beyond the awful borders imposed by time and space and contingency, there lies what you seek. I announce to you life instead of mere existence, freedom instead of frustration, justice instead of compensation. For I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done. I restore the years that the locusts and worms have eaten. I restore the years you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheelchair. I restore the symphonies and operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massif your blind eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder and the identity lost to you because of calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your own foolish mistakes have cheated you of. And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.
— Thomas Howard, Christ the Tiger