Deep Doubts & Open Wounds
I remember my first lengthy introduction to the kings of Israel as I poured over our family’s paperback copy of The Picture Bible. I was so impressed with Solomon: his wisdom, his wealth, his devotion to God. So when it came to the part of the story where the author must divulge the news that his wives turned his heart after other gods, I simply refused to believe what the text said. This was a picture Bible after all. Probably the cartoonist and author got a little carried away in their interpretation of the original story. I anxiously awaited the arrival home of my dad and brother (because they were the ultimate authority in my mind).
I sat on the floor of the living room, hunched over the Bible I’d been reading for hours, disbelieving the disturbing end to an epic life that was drawn and dramatized before me. My dad and brother stepped through the front door.
“This isn’t true, is it?” I queried, pointing to the picture of Solomon worshipping a graven image. My question presupposed the answer. I wanted my hero to end well. But my refusal to disbelieve the facts did nothing to change the story.
It only served as a prediction of the way I would receive facts in the future. I would doubt them.
The disciple Thomas always gets a bad rap. We call him “Doubting Thomas” (even though every single disciple, save the Beloved, doubted Christ’s resurrection until they actually saw Him). We’re a bit smug in our christening Doubting Thomas in this way. We surely wouldn’t have doubted the risen Christ, would we? No, we would have believed. We would have raced to get to the Empty Tomb first.
Or would we?
I know I wouldn’t have believed. Thomas doubted. Doubted the validity of Christ’s claims about Who He said He was. Doubted Christ’s prophecies about His rising from the dead. And obviously doubted his comrades when they began to tell, in their fevered pitches and hushed expressions, that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead.
Thomas stood with crossed arms and a cocked head and a solemn, cynical expression. To believe would mean to hope. And hope hurt. He couldn’t hope that his Teacher and Friend was alive and well.
No, instead Thomas just didn’t show up to some of the secret meetings where the disciples convened behind locked doors. This was the same Thomas who had wanted to go with Jesus to Lazarus’s tomb, thinking that all the disciples could go and die alongside Jesus (John 11:16). The other disciples had tried to talk Jesus out of returning to Judea (John 11:8). Thomas wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. During the Last Supper, Thomas had been the only disciple that was willing to voice their uncertainty about where Jesus was going. Had Thomas not spoken up, we wouldn’t have Christ’s words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
But the hard questions are over. Now the disciples are meeting, chattering about the risen Christ, and Thomas isn’t among them.
Believing and hoping is painful. Maybe that pain was too much for Thomas. We cannot know for certain.
I can only speak for myself. And the honest truth is that sometimes hoping is too much. It is easier to go on with life as it is than to believe for great miracles, easier to settle for the way things have turned out than to believe that things could be turning.
Thomas made an audacious proposal in his open disbelief when his fellow disciples told him with wide eyes, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas stood unmoved. He just simply said that he refused to believe it unless he could place his own fingers on and in those red and raw wounds.
Now the Risen Christ and the Doubting Disciple are to meet. Christ comes, scarred and wounded and with fresh blood in His untreated and open wounds.
Christ crosses the room where Thomas stands, still disbelieving. Instead of just letting Thomas see Him, breathing on him, shaking his hand, or embracing him, Christ does the one thing He know will squelch the disbelief that has simmered in the heart of Thomas for so many days.
He willingly stretches His torn and tender hands towards the trembling Thomas and invites the hands of the Cynic to touch the scars of the Savior. He silently parts the robe that covers His side and dares the calloused hands of a Skilled Laborer to plunge into the heart of a Rended Redeemer.
My mind can’t help but wonder if that touching and plunging and grasping only stirred the smarting senses of fissured flesh. We know of no other disciple who knew Jesus in this way after the Resurrection.
The disciple who doubted Christ the most deeply came to know Him the most intimately.
Though Christ’s final words to Thomas commended those who are able to believe without the aid of sight and sense, I hear no reprimanding overtones in His statements to Thomas. Christ kneels before Thomas, His wounds still open and inviting, and a man who has doubted Him for days finds healing for his disbelief in those open wounds. And Christ invited those doubts.
He knew His wounds ran deep enough to satisfy the deeply-running disbelief.
It is in bringing our most heartrending doubts to Him that our hands will plunge again the depths which Thomas once plummeted, and we will touch the heart of the Wounded Healer.
And those wounds will be enough.
Photos: Merilee Barnard
The Picture Bible (the one in the pictures. The same one I read as a kid). Script by Iva Hoth. Illustrations by Andre Le Blanc. Bible editor, C. Evan Olmstead, Ph.D. Chariot Books from David C. Cook Publishing Company. 1978.