COLUMN: Seeing is not believing

Published 6:12 pm Sunday, April 14, 2024

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“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week … ” John 20: 19-31 invites us in this week for a compelling story of life after the resurrection. 

That day, of course, was a day like no other. After the awful reality of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial on Friday, this Sunday brought some strange and unsettling events.

When it came to the aftermath of the empty tomb, seeing also wasn’t always believing. Or to be more succinct, Jesus said that sometimes we might not get the luxury of seeing before we needed to already be believing. 

Further, sometimes, what we set our minds to believe just might limit us from more clearly seeing the truth that was right before us. We are just as capable of tricking ourselves as we are of falling victim to the antics of others. 

Early that morning, Mary Magdalene had come, distressed, to tell the disciples that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb. Peter and “the other disciple” had run to the tomb and had seen for themselves that it was true. 

They had seen the linen cloths that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head and body lying there with no corpse to be found. Then a bit later that day, Mary Magdalene came to the disciples again, this time breathless with excitement, and told them, “I have seen the Lord.”

We might expect that the disciples would be celebrating by now. Instead, we find them huddled behind locked doors. John says that the doors were locked for fear of the Jews. Since the disciples themselves were Jews, of course, the statement cannot mean that they were afraid of Jews in general. 

Certainly, they were afraid of the specific Jewish leaders who were behind the plot to kill Jesus. They were likely afraid for their own lives, afraid about their uncertain futures. Now, things started to happen fast. 

Despite a closed and locked door, now Jesus was standing among them, well, standing now among ten of the twelve. Judas has forfeited his place among them. What about Thomas? All we know is that he was not there at the moment. 

Soon, Thomas rejoined them. That is when Jesus reminded us that seeing is not always believing. 

Has faith come easily to you? Or, have you had to work to be a person of faith? I think I always came to faith wanting to believe. So, things looked differently to me than they might to the Thomases of the world. 

Now if Thomas has to be a raw doubter, just a habitual cynic and a fellow who assumes he’s always the smartest guy in the room, I’m not really drawn to him. Not impressed in the least. 

But my heart opens up to him if his doubt instead looks sincere. Doubt such that he can’t wrap his head and his heart around what his buddies are saying has happened yet. 

I don’t have all my questions of the faith answered. No, rather the opposite. To this person, for whom the faith always came pretty easily, my questions have only been replaced by more and better questions the more I have plumbed the depths.

My faith is not yet sight. My faith is a choice, just like yours. A choice to believe despite not knowing it all. Despite not having all the blanks filled in. Despite seeing not truly being the avenue to believing always. 

What do we need to know about life after the resurrection? We can’t study our way to faith, but we do need to study. We can’t see our way to faith, but looking at the right things can sometimes be helpful.

We can’t argue our way to faith, but sometimes we will need to talk with other people who believe so that we can learn more. We can’t work our way to faith, but if we are people of faith we will want to do good works. 

Nothing rational, concrete, cognitive, or intentional can bring us one whit closer to accepting the true peace and comfort that Jesus Christ offers. He came and stood among the disciples, but what he said reverberates right through our time. 

Jesus said that blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. If you don’t have all the blanks filled in but are committed to following Jesus, then fall in alongside the rest of us and we’ll walk along together.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.