Your eyes will deceive you
Think about the best optical illusion you’ve ever seen. Where my wife is from, the nickname for the little town is “The Magic City.” The whole thing stemmed from a certain road where if you take your car out of gear it will move through by itself. You’ll swear you are moving uphill. Turns out, it’s all an optical illusion. The slight, imperceptible downhill grade just doesn’t meet the eye. Tourists have also delighted for generations in getting their photo taken in the small town of Piza, Italy. If you line up the camera and the subject just right, you can make it look like someone is holding up the leaning tower.
This Sunday, we had a gospel story from John 20: 19-31. This narrative is important, as. all of the stories the gospel writers included are important. They teach us substance and character. They teach us about God. I have some things to say about what Jesus taught here that is so central to our faith. Before I am finished, though, I will also have to labor to be clear as to what I am not saying.
Faith is a matter where our eyes alone will deceive us. Faith is a matter where logic alone will also deceive us. Faith is a matter where our rational, grown-up adult minds will deceive us.
Jesus wanted so badly to reconnect with his Disciples. He began to appear to them after the Resurrection. Thomas missed the first gathering. Who knows? Maybe he had other things to do that day. Maybe he was still afraid of getting caught by the authorities who were looking for the Disciples, or maybe he didn’t believe that Jesus was alive.
The others told him what they had seen and experienced. Jesus was alive! He still didn’t believe it. He hadn’t experienced all this like they had. We’ve labeled Thomas with the familiar name “Doubting Thomas.” That’s what tradition did to him, based on the questions he asked. I get it. He was the cynic in the group. The one who was hard to convince on certain matters.
But maybe we’ve been a little unfair to Thomas. Maybe sometimes he was just voicing what others were thinking. Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw Jesus for himself, and was able to touch the scars Jesus no doubt had. In Jesus’ grace, he gave Thomas just exactly that chance. It’s compelling to notice that when offered the opportunity to touch our Lord’s scars, he didn’t seem to actually touch Jesus at all.
He recognized his Lord short of making contact. Something other than sight or touch kicked in. Thomas not only believed, he blurted out a visceral reaction. What we call in Christian parlance a “confession.” Thomas’ confession goes down in biblical history as one of the first and most pointed declarations of faith we have. “My Lord and my God!” In the quiet of who you are, have you had such a moment? Maybe in the privacy of an unforgettable moment when God seemed evident to you, have you had a feeling about who God was that was so clear?
Now, let me be sure I tell what I am not saying. I am not saying that we should just check our brains at the door when it comes to our faith practice. Jesse Mercer, founder of Mercer University and a historic Baptist from over 100 years ago, said “The intersection of ignorance and religious fervor is a dangerous place to stand.” History bears this out dramatically. Because of that, I am also not saying there is no need to work at our faith. We must ply our faith as seriously and as rigorously as we possibly can. I also am not saying that just any ole thing someone wants to believe will pass the sniff test if they just say it’s “biblical” or “Christian.” That’s why our study and our maturity is so important.
Jesus challenged Thomas, and with that challenged us all when he observed, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That’s the nature of faith, when we come down to it. Everything may still not add up conventionally. Maybe there are no satisfactory answers to just everything we can wonder. Faith simply won’t play by the rules that nearly everything else in our lives will play by. But a clear moment where we can choose to believe, or to believe again.
Dr. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135