Seeing is believing. Isn’t that what we say when we don’t trust somebody’s word.
The one whose spouse has promised over and over again, to fix something, to change a bad habit, to go on that trip they have always talked about; the one who has been dealt a bad hand by life over and over again; the one who has been betrayed so violently that there is not a gram of trust left in their body. How can they say anything else – Seeing is believing.
How do you think the disciples felt after that last week in Jerusalem? The revolt that didn’t happen, the capture, the torture, the crucifixion, the dark grave used in haste because the sun was setting. Even if they had heard the promises of a better future, even if they had trusted that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the son of God, even if some of them as well as the women had seen the empty grave.
How could they be anything but confused, scared, hopeful but in disbelief! What they had witnessed was so final – the cross, the grave, the physicality of it all – that it was hard to believe that there could be a different truth, even after the empty grave.
So, Jesus came to them. The doors were locked and bolted so He could have been a ghost, they are the only ones expected to come through closed doors; but Luke in his gospel tells us that He shared a meal with them, the certain proof that He was a human, very much alive – ghosts don’t eat.
Only, Thomas hadn’t been there when it happened, so how could he believe it? I mean, a physical person coming through the wall or at least suddenly appearing in the middle of the room? Had the others gone bonkers? Maybe drunk too much wine to quell their confusion? Seeing is believing. And even if somebody came, could it really be their crucified friend and master or had it been somebody else? Only if I see the marks of the nails…! Seeing is believing.
I have been reading Joy Kogawa’s book “Gently to Nagasaki” about the terrors after the atomic bomb and one Christian professor there, Dr. Takashi Nagai, who along with other survivors from his department helped anyone who could in any way be helped. For a while he just knew he had to help, but then doubt began creeping in because, where was God in this the most Christian of cities in Japan, destroyed by others who considered themselves Christian? Where was God?
Sitting on a warm rock, trying to nurse himself into health between the treatment of others, he jolted up. God was here! God was in each and every person Dr. Nagai came across those August days in Nagasaki and in the years to follow. He and his colleagues and students were trying to soothe the pain of Christ on the cross, working for hope where all hope seemed lost.
Sometimes God is right here. No bugles, no lightning, no fancy stuff. Just right here. In a moment that some may discover while others feel a bit, well, out to lunch.
We rarely experience Jesus as physical presence the way His friends did back then, but the connection can be every bit as real.
Not to the Doubting Toms, of course, they want to see more, see God’s hand in one sense or another, just like the man they are named for, Thomas.
Sometimes the Christian will notice the hand of God long before the one who wants physical proof. One such evidence, that the person may not be realizing as such himself, is that the renowned physicist and adamant atheist Richard Dawkins is now saying that the only viable solution to the problems the world is faced with these days is what Christianity as a non-violent faith has to offer. He has been writing and battling against Christian faith for years, and now he is speaking of it as the solution. God is great – and He has a sense of humour!
Thomas sees the nail-torn hands and believes. He believes that Jesus is risen because he sees Jesus crucified – he sees the pain and believes the glory.
We, too, may not experience Jesus as what would be considered physical proof, but we may still see him. In the face of a suffering stranger, in the hand of a helpful friend. We are more likely to find Him in the Nagasaki’s of our lives than in any of the perfection we strive for.
This is the story of God’s people through the Bible, that when all is good they forget about God, and when on the brink of disaster or in the middle of it they call out for Him. And we cannot claim that we are a whole lot different from that.
This is why God transcends the physical world, enters places that otherwise seem impenetrable. He finds His beloved in the midst of pain and suffering, anguish, and lifts you up and lifts me up, out of what seems a certain grave.
No wall, no mindset, no disaster is too great to keep God away. He is right there, entering through closed minds and bolted doors, meeting us in our suffering neighbour and in the one who lends a helping hand.
Each and every moment is filled with the possibility of meeting the risen Master, whether or not we demand proof, whether or not we are beaten up, fearful or doubting, or we go about our lives as if nothing had happened, as if there was no God.
The strangest people bear witness to this, the doubting Thomas, the atheists doing God’s work, the people who help in the concentration camps and Nagasaki’s of the world, as well as the little ones on whose heads the water falls in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.