The Thomas Syndrome

I’m really glad that I’m not the one responsible for the statement, “I will build my church.” That’s a monstrously large task, and I’m not always convinced that we His Church are all that willing to be built. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that He’s doing His job and doing it well.

One subject that I am watching Him addressing in His Church is what I call The Thomas Syndrome. You remember Thomas? He’s the guy that will forever be famous for the line, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

The central is along the eyes of “I trust my own eyes and my own experience. Yours isn’t good enough for me to trust.” We don’t say it that bluntly because we’re too polite, but that’s the essence of what we say to each other so often.

What we actually say is something like, “I’ll pray about it” or “I’m sure God will show me if I need to deal with that.” Or “No, God’s not telling me to repent of that sin right now.” Or “I’m glad that works for you.” Or “I just don’t see it that way.” I recently heard someone actually say “I don’t need any prophets to listen to, I have the Word.”

It all means the same thing: “I will not believe your experience. I must have my own experience before I will believe what you’re telling me.”

We were taught that in third grade science class: only trust empirical data (though when you come right down to it, that’s not practiced very well by those who preach it loudest).

Jesus corrected that perspective: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We usually teach this as “Hooray for all the people who are Christians, but have not seen Jesus for themselves. They’ve believed the testimony of other people who haven’t seen him, and that’s good.” That’s probably a fine thing, but I don’t believe it’s what Jesus was talking about here.

The context supports this interpretation: “When someone tells you what they’ve experienced in Me, you need to believe them.”

Consider His response when the twelve didn’t believe the boys from Emmaus: “He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.” In other words: two of them had an experience – a strange and unprecedented experience – with Jesus and He expected the rest to believe them. He rebuked them – that’s a strong word – for not believing them. He required the apostolic leaders of the church to believe the two kids – not leaders, not even important enough to name – who had experienced Jesus in a new and different way.

For the record, they eventually got it right later on. When God bypassed the leadership and poured out His spirit on (shiver!) gentiles, they grilled Peter for even preaching to the gentiles, but when they heard about what they experienced, they changed both their response and their theology: “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

Does that mean that we believe every strange and spurious story that comes along? No? Then how do I know to believe the kids from Emmaus, and not the guy next to him that's just looking for attention? How do I judge what is God and what is not?

Here’s my point: The One who builds His church does not build it the way that you and I would. He sometimes shows Himself to no-name kids on the road to some country village, and He expects that the Apostles of the Church to believe their testimony and to change their expectations of God (their theology) because of it.

Here’s how that can work: until that time, almost nobody had the Holy Spirit resident in them. Now, we all do, though we don’t all listen to Him all that well. That’s probably why He sometimes disguises His voice: sometimes teenagers in Emmaus, sometimes as a friend’s encouragement, a secular movie, a weird dream, whatever. We’re not listening for what we understand. We’re listening for His voice. As He did with Elijah, He still speaks into a distraction in a still small voice.

He’s expecting us to hear it. And when we hear, He’s expecting us to believe.

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