Too Good To Be True? John 20:19-31
When I was home for the summer after my second year of seminary, I was walking in my parent’s backyard one day and found a four-leaf clover on the ground. I’d found four-leaf clovers before, but it was always a rare occurrence that made my day. I didn’t pick it; I knelt down next to it. As I looked at it, I saw another four-leaf clover not even a foot away from it. I was amazed, I’d never seen anything like it before! In my excitement I saw something even more amazing—a third four leaf clover right there in the same area! I thought “I can’t believe this, this is incredible! Three four leaf clovers right next to each other!” I could barely believe my eyes.
And then…I saw there was a fourth four-lead clover. But my excitement left me and I thought about how foolish I was for thinking I’d actually found four four-leaf clovers in my yard. I was disappointed because this couldn’t be real. There had to be some other explanation. It was just too good to be true. After all, the odds of finding one four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000. How could I find four of them right next to each other?
Later that day I showed my family. The clovers were easy to find because they were right by the edge of the steps. And as the day went on and I had time to let it sink in, I came to terms with the fact that I had in fact found four literal four-leaf clovers all right next to each other. I even emailed the Guinness Book of Records about it, but received an email back declining to report my discovery.
But I’ll never forget my initial reaction, one of excitement building and then collapsing when I thought to myself “This is too good to be true”. Maybe that’s how Thomas felt when he first heard about Jesus’ Resurrection. It’s not surprising that Thomas doubted. Doubt was just about everybody’s first response to the news that Christ had risen. When the women told the disciples about the empty tomb the Gospels tells us they thought it was an idle tale. It isn’t until most people actually saw Jesus risen from the dead that they actually came to believe He’s alive.
So honestly, I think Thomas gets a bad rap, forever known as “Doubting Thomas”. It is hard to believe Jesus is alive, and all Thomas was asking for was what the other disciples got (although Thomas does add the bit about sticking his fingers into Jesus’ wounds). And when Jesus actually shows up a week later, Thomas realizes how demanding he was being. Jesus graciously meets Thomas’ demands and tells him to touch His hands and put his fingers into His side. Thomas is awestruck and the only thing he can say or do is totally surrender and utter “My Lord and my God!”
While Thomas may have had an experience of the Risen Christ to alleviate his doubts forever, wrestling with doubt is part of the journey for most Christians today. So many times we find ourselves doubting and demanding a sign to prove God’s presence, God’s love, or God’s interest or involvement in our lives. Yet so often we find ourselves lacking what God so generously gave to Thomas: evidence of God’s work in our lives and in the world. Like Thomas we have seen death do its worst, we have seen injustice and evil destroy goodness and love, we have witnessed tremendous suffering in our lives and around the world. But unlike Thomas we don’t have the privilege of seeing the risen Christ stand in the same room as us. We don’t get to touch Jesus’ wounds to make sure He’s really there. We don’t get to see for ourselves. Sure it’s nice Jesus said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” but we really would like to see you, Jesus!
And honestly, most of us aren’t demanding an ecstatic vision or miraculous sign, we just want a little sense of God’s presence to ease our doubts. When we’re feeling overcome by doubt and uncertainty, just a feeling that God is actually there would be nice. Perhaps seeing some more evidence in the world that love is stronger than hate, or receiving some semblance of peace and comfort in our times of sorrow would be enough to get us through the most difficult times. We don’t demand nearly as much as Thomas, and we often don’t even get that…
Medieval mystic St. John of the Cross describes what he calls the “dark night of the soul”—a time of spiritual dryness and doubt, uncertainty and suffering. A time where we question if God hears us, if God cares about us, if God is even there at all. John of the Cross describes these periods of doubt as essential to the spiritual journey. They are times of purification that all people, even the disciples had to go through. Times where the Spirit is training us in the path of pure faith—a faith that doesn’t demand signs, wonders, or even positive emotions to know that God is with us in the midst of all the chaos of life.
Sometimes life pushes us to the brink of faith and challenges us to trust. In our own deepest doubts God is challenging us to have faith in His love and presence despite all evidence to the contrary. If we can learn to recognize periods of doubt as periods of purification and growth, we see that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith—but something that actually strengthens and matures our trust in God. In some mysterious way, periods of doubt are essential to the growth of Christian faith.
So I think perhaps Thomas is a model for us. Because Thomas walks through a week of doubt and comes out stronger than ever. And while all the disciples experienced doubt at the news of Jesus’ Resurrection at first, Thomas is the one who had to wait a week; and he’s the one who declares that Jesus is my Lord and my God. His experience of wrestling with doubt longer than the others revealed something to him that the others hadn’t quite put their finger on yet. It seems to have taught Thomas to understand the true divinity of Jesus. Wrestling with doubt has a way of teaching us something new, if we can only hang in there long enough.
And so like Thomas, let us embrace the dark nights as best we can, and trust that God will see us through. And understood that while Jesus being alive again might sound too good to be true, Christ is risen! And that’s Good News not just for Thomas, but for you, and for me, and for the entire world. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!