For the duration of the pandemic, I have decided to focus on the positive. Dialectic debate is good and necessary, but for the duration of the fight against the virus this blog is dedicated to helping teachers and students. As a result, some discussions are on hold as we get good cheer and resources out to students. Here is a series done by one of my favorite educators in the United States on Thomas Aquinas. This is Part I. This is Part II. This is Part III.
Jill Elizabeth Bergen is a writer and educator with over twenty years of experience in classical education. She is a member of the Torrey Honors Institute and holds an MA in Education with an emphasis in Philosophy of Education. She and her husband, Bradley, reside in Southern California.
Previously, I argued that John included Thomas’ incidence of doubt in order to make the Christological point that Jesus’ physical body was indeed resurrected. Now we will look at the nature of Thomas’ doubt and what it might tell us about the nature of faith and belief.
Thomas’ problem wasn’t so much a lack of faith in Jesus as it was that he failed to believe the testimony of his friends: he had every reason to trust his friends when they told him they had seen a resurrected Jesus. I’m certainly not going to argue that this was good, aside from last week’s point about how we, who cannot see, benefited from it. However, I am arguing that this wasn’t an extraordinarily terrible crisis of faith. Keep in mind that the other disciples had been able to see Jesus appear to them and show them his wounds, after doubting the testimony of the myrrh-bearing women. Thomas also wanted a different assurance than testimony, one that his friends already received. We know that Thomas was willing to die for Jesus, and that Thomas remained loyal to the disciples during the gap in Jesus’ appearances. He surely must have had at least some level of faith, but he needed a little help that Jesus did not deny, but provided. He immediately calls Jesus “Lord and God” when he touches him; he needs no further arguments or evidence.
This is not unlike most of our experience with faith. The Christian life doesn’t consist in a conversion and then a straight and constant march toward heaven. If you are at all like me, you have days where you do not know if God listens to your prayers, if you’ve gotten the basics of the faith right, or if God even loves you. In the end, though, we must just keep moving forward and attempt anew each day to put our trust in God. We may have some doubts, we may waver in belief, but having faith does not mean not having doubts; it means staying the course in spite of it all, as Thomas did. I am thankful for realistic examples of the faith, who make me believe it is possible to stay the course.
We are often told to “just have faith,” unlike foolish Thomas. But Thomas did indeed have faith, despite a momentary doubt. Who among us has not wavered a bit in faith or had trouble trusting God? Thomas, far from faithless, led a life of extraordinary, persevering faithfulness to Jesus. Perhaps the Slavonic icons of Thomas provide a more fitting picture of the situation. Instead of labeling him with “doubt,” the inscriptions on his icons say “The Belief of St. Thomas.”