When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.John 20:19-31
An opinion article from the New York Times floated around this week with the click-bait headline “President of Seminary says she doesn’t believe in the resurrection”. I honestly wish I could tell you that I was even slightly surprised by this, but the truth is about every year or so there is some news outlet that finds someone who claims to be a christian leader who will patently deny something central to the faith. They treat it as news because it seems to be a contradiction, that it is a shocking new development in the religious landscape of this country, though at this point, I wouldn’t say that it is real news. It’s been happening for far too long, both publicly and privately. Though it no longer is shocking if you’ve been paying attention, it never ceases to be disappointing. I read the article, and I was not the least bit surprised, it’s exactly the same as every other article of this kind since the 17th century. Yes, that’s right, the 17th century, as I said, this doubt has been going on for a long time, and I suspect it will continue, though the importance of it is yet to be seen.
Let me be perfectly clear about what is happening in this article: the writer of the article is trying to push a very specific agenda, and the source that he found is trying to appease that kind of agenda for the sake of notoriety or appealing to non-Christians. Let me also be clear that I agree with their goals, though their methods are ineffective and intellectually dishonest. There is no malice in this interview about this christian minister denying the basic points of faith. She, like so many before her are trying to build up the unity of humankind. She witnesses the pain caused by how divided the world is and this is her way of calling everyone to reconcile. I applaud her for that lofty goal, and I am glad that the secular writer, the minister, and the thousands who read that article share that ideal and reinforce peace for all of humankind. Though the goal is worthy, good, and Christian, the method is ineffective and dishonest. It is ineffective because those who are hostile to faith or hostile to peace will not see this compromising position as something attractive. It will not heal their wounds, their anger, or distrust, because they will also see it for what it is: dishonesty.
As Christians we must believe in a flesh-and-blood resurrection. Why does it have to be flesh-and-blood? Though there are numerous reasons, I’ll refer you to the early ecumenical councils of the Church for details [Particularly the Council of Chalcedon], but the summary is this: if Jesus, God Incarnate, did not really die on the cross, and then really rise in body and spirit, then we cannot be sure that humankind was really saved from Sin and Death. If we aren’t sure of our salvation, what’s the point of being a Christian? Being a Christian isn’t easy, and if we are following this line of logic to its natural conclusion, without Jesus being effective at saving humanity, there really is no point. People have died for the belief that Jesus has saved the world, and that they were doing their part in witnessing His saving act, and it saddens me that their memory is being so dishonored by us who are comfortable and secure enough to be able to live as if we have no need for God.
But as I said, this is nothing new. There is some irony that this particular article would be published on the week of St. Thomas’ doubt in the lectionary. It’s harder to blame Thomas for doubting because he, like all the disciples, was in genuine danger for having associated with a convicted rebel. It’s why John notes that the rooms that Jesus appears in are locked, not to show the power of God, but to show the fear of the disciples. Thomas doubted out of fear for his safety, and even the basic wisdom of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. What is so interesting about Thomas’ story is how John explains why he included it. He narrates:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”
Strange for a gospel filled with miracles, signs of power, and high incarnational theology would feel compelled to conclude a story this way. If there were more miracles, or more evidence that Jesus really is who he says he is, and John explicitly states that’s what he is trying to prove to his reader, why would he leave it out? Because John is aware that faith doesn’t come from witnessing miracles, it comes from the Resurrection.
If I ask you what is faith is, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If your answer is “believing in something without or in spite of evidence” then I am sorry to say that’s not faith, that is stubbornness. If your answer is “believing in something because of compelling evidence” then I am sorry to say that is not faith, that is basic reasoning. Faith is willingness, being willing to walk with someone and work through a problem together. Logic and reason as a method is built upon faith. In basic logic, you have to work with premises, to assess whether or not a claim or argument is valid, you have to be willing to work with the premises you are assessing. In other words, you have to have faith in the premises to begin, then through your journey with them see whether or not they are valid. When you hear Faith and Reason as oppositions to one another, that stems from the 17th century.
In the end of the 17th century, when the period now known as the Enlightenment was taking shape among Europe’s intellectuals, a movement called deism became the fashionable belief system. They had come out of a period filled with wars that were at least in name, fought between Catholics and Protestants [that wasn’t actually true, as always it was about power, land, and wealth, but religion was used as an excuse and that’s how most people at the time understood the causes], and sought to unify humankind through reason alone. Deism was the belief in a God that created the world and never touched or interacted with it again, that all the stories from the Bible and other religious texts were simply stories pointing to the universal truth of reason, or lies created by their followers to get power. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? John Locke, one of the more famous philosophers of this age, wanted to hold on to traditional Christianity, while still in his heart being convinced of the diest arguments against a loving and interested god. So he wrote a book called The Reasonableness of Christianity and in it he found a way to reconcile these opposing positions by hanging all of his faith on the miracles the Bible talks about. For him, the miracles prove the Christian message, without them, everything falls apart.
That mistake is why we have the “faith vs. reason” debates to this day, and why people spend too much time worrying about this miracle or that miracle. Outside of the resurrection, which would render Christianity completely incoherent, do not be overly concerned with whether or not other miracles described in the Bible happened exactly as described. God can work through nature or above nature, so it really isn’t that hard to believe they did, or even didn’t happen as the average reader would understand them. God speaks directly, and in metaphor and story, so do the biblical authors and they generally were aware when they were writing in metaphor, analogy, and myth to convey truths God revealed to them. Miracles get too much attention in debates because they are simple to argue about and prove one way or another with basic rhetoric (though not often with proper syllogistic logic). This precisely why John ends Thomas’ story not with more and more examples of Jesus’ miracles, but by pointing to the resurrection.
Faith in the resurrection is so much more than saying you believe in a historical event. A mature faith is one that is built on real partnership with God, not an arrogant assumption that you need everything proven to you before you can even begin to walk, or a cowardly belief that God can’t handle criticism so you shield yourself from any kind opposition. Having faith in the resurrection means you are willing to walk with God where He asks you to go. To believe that God loves humanity, and is constantly redeeming all the evil that this world endures. Having faith is to think critically about what God asks you to do, even occasionally argue with him about it, so that you will understand why God is asking you to do it. Having faith is believing in God’s promise that through his sacrifice and resurrection he is making the whole world new, and that we are to witness to the new creation. Having faith is behaving in such a way that whole world knows you are Christ’s disciple by your love and compassion for all people, especially those who oppose you. Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!