Doubting Thomas, the Apostle

Among miracles in the all Gospels, the resurrection should be the most significant event, especially of both Lazarus and Jesus.

As the foundation of Christianity, the implication is transcending death and life beyond spacetime toward non-boundary, called eternal life. It is a glimpse of the eternity, manifested in our dualistic spacetime. It’s so paradoxical and significant as Singularity.

The Gospel of John recorded the resurrections of Lazarus and of course Jesus. And in both scenes, there is one person mentioned in common, Thomas, the Apostle.

Why did he show up in both? He is dubbed as Doubting Thomas. What did he doubt? Why was he doubtful?

His surname was Didymus, which means twin or two-fold. It seemed this name was representing a symbol of duality. Perhaps, the eyes of Doubting Thomas were symbolizing a typical dualistic perception, divided into seer and seen. 

He was a man of reason. In the iconography and statue of Thomas, the Apostle, we usually see a carpenter’s square as his profession. To build houses safely in this world, we have to be a man of reason to accept only something measurable.

Thomas was such a kind of person. He did not trust anything unless and until it can be objectively certain in his physical eyes. He was a carpenter, engineer, and scientist. Doubtfulness was his strength and advantage.

Probably, for this reason, the Gospel of John mentioned him as a clear contrasting figure in both miracles.

In Lazarus’ resurrection, at first, Jesus stated that Lazarus’ sickness was not unto death. Thomas understood this statement literally. After that, Jesus also said Lazarus was dead (and resurrected). Thomas understood it literally as well. Other disciples also understood the words of Jesus literally. They missed the point of these two contradictory messages.

When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

John 11:4

Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

John 11:14-16

Jesus said Lazarus’ sickness was NOT unto death. After that, Thomas witnessed the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Seeing this miracle, it seemed to Thomas that Lazarus became physically immortal by the sorcery of Jesus.

Is Lazarus physically immortal? No. Did Jesus show off his magic power through Lazarus? No, either. 

Like many others, the dualistic, doubtful eyes of Thomas saw the event as a superficial magic. He believed it as Jesus’ sorcery to make one physically immortal, which is far from truth.

As Sören Kierkegaard articulated in his work, the Sickness unto Death, Lazarus never became physically immortal by the sorcery of Jesus. Even after the resurrection, Lazarus died eventually just like everyone else. Rather, it was a glimpse of the eternity, paradoxically manifested in our spacetime realm. Like Thomas, however, few understood what Lazarus’ resurrection truly meant. 

The sickness NOT unto death means the faithful, contemplative eyes that can see one’s eternal life. The sickness unto death, on the other hand, is the doubtful eyes of the flesh that can see the world here is everything; other than this world, there is neither hope, faith, nor God’s love for one’s eternal life.

Kierkegaard called it despair

In our doubtful eyes of the flesh, the dualistic world divides our perception into seer and seen. We see ourselves in our self-consciousness, where we are either loving or hating our illusory false-self.

And having the sickness unto death, consciously and unconsciously struggling with our false-self, we are in despair. In the long subtitle of the first chapter in the Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard summarized these self-conscious and unconscious struggles as follows.

Despair is a Sickness in the Spirit, in the Self, and So It May Assume a Triple Form: in Despair at Not Being Conscious of Having a Self (Despair Improperly So Called); in Despair at Not Willing to Be Oneself; in Despair at Willing to Be Oneself.

The Sickness unto Death

And in the same manner, Thomas was also the key figure in the Resurrection of Jesus.

This second scene is well-known. Because of this, he is dubbed as Doubting Thomas. In the iconography of Thomas, the Apostle, we usually see the image that Thomas is placing his finger on the side of Jesus Christ. 

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

John 20:24-25

When Jesus came to the disciples for the first time, Thomas was not there with them. As a man of reason, he did not believe what other disciples said. Even though witnessing the resurrection of Lazarus, understanding the magical event superficially, and perhaps realizing Lazarus was not completely immortal at the end, Thomas was doubtful. He demanded a piece of hard evidence. 

In the dualistic, doubtful eyes of Thomas, the universe should exist in front of him. It is outside of him as if he can stand outside of the universe; as if he can see the whole picture from the outside where he stands. Everything should be divided into seer and seen.

Thomas shouted at other disciples, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

After eight days, then, Jesus came back. He was in front of the dualistic, doubtful eyes of Thomas.

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

John 20:26-28

And Jesus told Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” 

At last, Thomas saw a set of hard evidence through his dualistic, doubtful eyes of the flesh to convince himself. Through this objective, physical interaction between two, Thomas finally accepted the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the factual truth.

And Thomas said to Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”

However, I am not sure if Thomas was carefully listening to the last words of Jesus, “be not faithless, but believing.” For Jesus, the objective, physical interaction was secondary, even insignificant. His key message was “be not faithless but believing.”

As long as we rely on our dualistic, doubtful eyes of the flesh, we can never see the real meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; the reality and fullness of God’s love through His perfect sacrifice.

It is not the factual truth that we can understand through our dualistic, doubtful eyes of the flesh, but the eternal, non-dualistic, non-boundary truth that we can see by the eyes of the Spirit and contemplation.

So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Romans 8:8-10

Even though calling “My Lord and my God,” Jesus knew Thomas was still Thomas. So, Jesus added: 

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

John 20:29

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed. Just like “poor in spirit” and “the meek,” and so on in one’s self-denial, it should be one of the heavenly paradoxes where we can genuinely and faithfully call Jesus “My Lord and my God” in entering the kingdom of heaven where they shall see God.  

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

Luke 9:23-24

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Matthew 5:3,5,8

Images: Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON; The statue of Thomas the Apostles by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen; and, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio (1601-2)

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