The Bible is filled with examples of less-than-perfect people who complained, doubted and even disputed with God. And God accepts this. In fact, He invites it. God wants an open, sincere and honest relationship with us in the context of “working things out” and going through life. God does not turn away those who love Him, have striven to serve Him, have sacrificed for Him, and then feel hurt, disappointed or left behind when things do not turn out the way they anticipated.
One such example is the Apostle Thomas, whose zeal and love for Christ led him to say “let us go with Him, so that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16). On the day of the Resurrection, a remarkable event occurred at which Thomas was not present: Christ appeared and transferred His God-exclusive authority of forgiving sins to His Apostles, by breathing into them God Himself, the Holy Spirit, through whom His forgiveness is granted.
Yet the disciples were not fully endowed with the Holy Spirit’s power until Pentecost and for this reason were still gathering in fear behind closed doors. In this gathering – before the Church and its Apostles – Thomas confessed his doubt. He could have concealed it; instead, he was honest. Thomas may have very well been the first person to go to Confession.
Did he commit a sin by doubting? We might be tempted to think so because Thomas had no real reason to doubt. After all, Thomas had left everything and followed Jesus for three years. He listened to him teach like no man had ever taught, saw Him labor without rest day and night as a perfect ascetic, heal countless people in soul and body – even those born blind – and raise at least three people from the dead, including one that had become a four-day-old stinking corpse. Jesus also predicted His own sufferings, death and resurrection. Nevertheless, to be crucified – a death only for criminals – in a spectacular public display of mob-violence, Roman expediency, and cunning and intrigue amongst the rulers of their own religion, was traumatic, to say the least.
Yet Jesus rose from the dead and began appearing to His disciples, at each juncture granting them the proof they desired. He appeared to Peter and the others, who testified as much, and Thomas rejected their testimony.
Thomas seeks a sign. How is this possible? Jesus said earlier that only “an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign.” Thomas saw all the miracles! He heard the testimony of the others. How could he brazenly doubt? Perhaps he was reasonable, perhaps not. Perhaps Thomas wanted to believe, but still could not. His inability is partly stubbornness, partly honesty with himself. Whatever the case, Thomas could not believe and said as much. He is honest with the Apostles for he does not hide his unbelief. He could have. He could have simply not revealed it and not confessed it. He could have gone his way and settled things with God by himself. He could have confessed only to God in privacy; after all, isn’t God everywhere? Doesn’t He hear us in private as well?
But Thomas did not confess in private and God did not answer in private. Instead, both took place before the Apostles, the ones through whom Jesus now works by a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And here’s the point: God wants us to be honest. He wants us to tell Him how we really feel – our pains, doubts, anxieties, failings. He’s big enough to take it. He will respond, on any issue. Thomas had doubts and confessed them and as the icon and hymns of the Church show, Christ not only gave Thomas His side, but Thomas did not hesitate to investigate. Christ did not say, “That Thomas! Until he grows up, I’m not talking to him!” God does not oppose our questioning if we are honest and if we are seeking. He does not expect us to have “blind” faith or not use our rational thought, for why did He give us a mind if we are not supposed to use it?
But our honesty with God cannot be separated from the Church, just as Christ cannot be separated from His Church. Christ continues to forgive sins and reveal Himself in the Church. As one contemporary Orthodox theologian has stated: Christ did not come on earth to teach us how to feed the poor, or perform any social activity, or teach us a new philosophy, as important as they may be. Rather, very simply: He left His body and sent His Spirit. With these He incorporates us into His life in God the Holy Trinity.
Honesty (Confession) and Revelation (Eucharist) are hallmarks of Apostolic life. The former is our self-revelation to God and the latter His response of revelation to us. Both are profoundly personal and at the same time inseparable from the Church. Thomas is an example to us in both. Only by being honest with God, laying everything before Him, revealing ourselves to Him, do we give Him an opportunity to reveal Himself to us. And in this mutual openness can we too, like Thomas, make the confession, “My Lord and my God.”
by Hieromonk Calinic (Berger)