Disciples preacher and professor Fred Craddock once told a story:
Used to have a kid down home who’d believe anything you’d tell him. You could say, “The schoolhouse burned down. We’re not having school tomorrow.”
“Oh boy!” He’d believe it.
“They’re giving away free watermelons down at the town hall.”
“Really? Free watermelons?” He’d go running off.
“Dud you know the president of the United States is coming to our town tomorrow?”
“He is? Really? Whoopee!” He just believed everything.
I remember once there was an evangelist who came to our town, and he said to that kind, “God loves you and cares for you and comes to you in Jesus Christ.” And do you know, that kid believed it? He actually believed it.
I’m unnerved by this gullible boy. I’m uncomfortable with the confidence of someone like the “disciple whom Jesus loved” who the Gospel says believed before he even understood. Most days I would rather be a mistaken skeptic than a fool with faith. It sure is safer.
And it seems I am not alone, even in the Gospel narrative. I have mixed feelings about the apostle Thomas. I guess that ambivalence is already written into his name (literally “twin”). He is divided. Too often Thomas gets a bad reputation as a sort of skeptic, a scientific mind rejecting the reality of miracles. “Doubting Thomas” we call him.
But doubt arises from many places. After all, Thomas has already come this far with Jesus. All the miracles have yet to drive him away in disbelief. Thomas has traveled from town to town announcing the kingdom of God. He himself has likely healed the sick and cast out demons. But what is there to show for it? Another dead Messiah. Now Thomas is shaking off the grief, picking up and looking back to his old life. The scar tissue is starting to solidify and he hears the news: Jesus is risen from the dead.
But Thomas wants to see the wounds—maybe because he is so aware of his own. (I noticed this week that in Caravaggio’s painting above, Thomas has a tear in his tunic the same shape and size as the one in Christ’s side. The two seem placed to mirror each other.) Thomas doesn’t say “I do not believe it.” He says, “I will not believe it." What if he isn’t letting himself believe it? What if for him it is simply too good to be true? We want to believe. We want to live in a world where resurrection is real. But true hope hurts. It exposes us to embarrassment, loss, and misunderstanding. It makes fools of us. It calls us to exchange our callouses and calculations for the confession “My Lord and my God!” It demands we abandon measured responses and embrace the “Alleluia!"