An ancient philosophical statement posits, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This has never been a problem for me, I’ve been plagued with self-introspection my entire life. I constantly find myself evaluating my actions and motives. Why do I do what I do? Why do I say what I say? I’ve often sarcastically pondered that the “unexamined life” is probably a lot more carefree and fun.
Introspectively, I’ve even asked myself why I am a Christian. It’s always been hard for me to believe anything. As a child, I never believed in Santa or the Easter Bunny. As a TV watching adolescent, I wasn’t persuaded by reports of Bigfoot, U.F.O.’s, or the Loch Ness Monster. In college I was trained in skeptical philosophy to question everything. Even as a Christian, I wasn’t worried about the “Y2K” scare that swept through Christendom in 1999. I’m not on the lookout for the rapture or the mark of the beast. I think people at those big healing rallies are not really being healed. How is it that I believe in Christ? I’m a skeptic at heart. How is it I believe God came to earth as a man, suffered and died, and was raised on the third day, for my sins? Similarly, I have a feeling perhaps some of you wonder why, or if, you actually believe in Christ. You may even think, “If Jesus would just appear to me, I would believe without question.” Is this so? I don’t think so.
In John 20:24-29 we read about the disbelief of one the close companions of Christ: Thomas. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Lord appeared to some of his disciples. When Thomas heard about alleged “Jesus sightings”, he (in Jim Swan fashion) said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week after this famous statement, the resurrected Christ appeared to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
This passage shows that the roots of disbelief and faithlessness are deep within the heart, even with those who experienced Christ in person, like Thomas. John Calvin commented that Thomas was not only slow and reluctant to believe, but even obstinate. That is, Thomas was stubborn and determined in skepticism. What’s going on here? Is this an historical account of the conversion of Thomas? Is seeing Christ in the flesh the antidote for skepticism?
No. A close study of Thomas in the New Testament reveals that John 20:24-29 is not recording the conversion of Thomas. Thomas was a Christian before his obstinate disbelief demanding to see the very nail scarred hand of Christ. Earlier in John 11:16, Thomas is prepared to die with Jesus at the hands of the Jews. In John 14:4-5, Jesus explains he’s going to “prepare a place” for his followers.” Thomas asks, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus responds, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Note, Jesus says to Thomas: “You do know me, and the Father.” This strong affirmative statement settles the state of Thomas’s soul in my mind. Thomas was a Christian before his skeptical demanding to see the nail scarred hands of the Lord.
How does one make sense then of the faithlessness of Thomas in John 20? After seeing the resurrected Christ, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Matthew Henry says Thomas said this from being ashamed of his incredulity. Thomas realized he should have known better. Calvin says, “The faith which appeared to be destroyed was, as it were, concealed and buried in his heart.” In other words, John 20:24-29 presents a backslidden Christian, not an unregenerate heart. Thomas had faith, but it had become buried by his sinful stubbornness and lack of faith in God’s word.
What in this experience of Thomas would provoke Thomas to call Jesus “God”? Was it by touching the nail-scarred hands of the Messiah? Calvin says that this experience only “awakened Thomas from sleep”. Faith is not born from the experience of seeing or touching Christ, but is born and then continually nurtured by the Word of God. Calvin notes,
“For it was not by mere touching or seeing that Thomas was brought to believe that Christ is God, but, being awakened from sleep, he recalled to remembrance the doctrine which formerly he had almost forgotten. Faith cannot flow from a merely experimental knowledge of events, but must draw its origin from the word of God. Christ, therefore, blames Thomas for rendering less honor to the word of God than he ought to have done, and for having regarded faith — which springs from hearing, and ought to be wholly fixed on the word — as bound to the other senses.”
Jesus goes on to tell Thomas in John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now, None of us has seen Christ in the flesh. How then does one achieve this state of “blessedness”? Do you muster up all your willpower to believe? Do you get yourself hypnotized into believing? The answer is found in the next verse: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30).
Like Thomas, the reason any of us believes is because the Holy Spirit has enabled us to do so (Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8-10). Our strength to believe comes from the Word of God. We are to feed on it. It is that which nurtures our faith- to take us from being the normal “doubting Thomas’s” we are to the affirming believer that emphatically states, “My Lord and my God!” If you have trouble believing, chances are, you are not being nourished enough by the Word of God.
Some find certainty for faith in the way they feel. Those who state in song, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart” will probably be disheartened when they don’t “feel” so “saved” at certain points in their lives. This approach looks for certainty of faith in a dead end direction. Relying on one’s feelings can only lead to despair. For the song to be correct, it should say, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives because the Word of God says so.”
I believe in the resurrection because the Bible tells me so. Elaborate evidences and arguments to “prove” the resurrection may be interesting, and even helpful to one’s faith. I’ve heard many arguments and read more than a few books about “proving” the resurrection by scientific method or rational argumentation-but they will never create or sustain faith. As a Christian, I’ve had my ups and downs. Those periods in which I found myself furthest in disbelief were those times I wasn’t being fed by the Scriptures. Nourish yourself on the word of God this Easter. Experience for yourself God’s very voice. The saying “The unexamined life is not worth living” is the wisdom of man. Only the examined Bible will make life worth living.