Have you ever been late to the party? Or you've just missed the big event by a couple of moments? You left the room during the big game and heard everybody cheer only to return and realize you missed the big moment, the big turning point of the big game?
Maybe you know the story, maybe you don't. After Jesus died and rose again, he showed himself to a number of people. One guy missed it. He wasn't at the party, and he missed the biggest thing that you could miss - God made man who was killed and came to life again. Now that's a fish story. Seriously. Who would believe that unless they saw it? So, Thomas is incredulous. He's not totally closed, he just wants to see it himself before he cashes in all his chips on this hand. Maybe you just call him practical or wisely cautious? We often get down on Thomas, but this is a tall tale to stake your life upon - which was the case... remember, Jesus was just murdered on a cross, and so you want to be sure if you're going to align with him. Here's the story from John 20:24-27:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
There's a lot here that could be said and looked at, but what fascinates me is this statement: "A week later..." A week later. Imagine that. All of your friends have seen Jesus. They're all giddy with excitement. They still can't understand why you can't get your head around it or your heart in it, and you begin to feel a little bitterness in your heart.
"Why can I experience Jesus the way they have? Why isn't God showing himself to me?"
We might think of Thomas as different than us. But the reality is that we all experience the week of Thomas at some point in our lives, or maybe often. It's that time when others are experiencing God, feeling his presence, knowing him closely - but you're not. You feel a distance, and you can't help compare with what your friends are feeling. You long for it and you try to fight the bitterness that slowly begins to creep in. The week of Thomas.
Here is how St. John of the Cross - who wrote The Dark Night of the Soul about this experience says it in The Spiritual Canticle:
You are a hidden God. Neither is the sublime communication nor the sensible awareness of His nearness a sure testimony of His gracious presence, nor is dryness and a lack of these a reflection of His absence. [Stanza 1]
The feeling of winter in the spiritual life is not necessarily God's absence, even though it feels like it. As odd as it may sound, in the life of faith, not feeling God's presence does not mean his absence or abandonment. During these times we cry out for connection and lament our spiritual loneliness, but the reality is that we are never alone. Jesus reminds us of this in John 14:8, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." In St. John's writings, he advocates for a time of deep reflection during these seasons to seek out unnecessary or unhealthy attachments to other things or people, to strengthen our faith, to increase our dependence upon him, and to find Him by releasing our grip on everything else, including our own fate, fortune, and future. Often it's about releasing the grip of control - our own sense of control or releasing us from the things we have allowed to control us (read cultural or personal addictions - for more on this read Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. Or, as Gordon Cosby reminded me several times, we are addicted to culture and need to go through spiritual detox daily.)
It's been a crazy Winter. The snow is deeper and higher and the temperatures are colder than I ever remember it - other than the winter of 1978. People all around are screaming for Spring and wailing against Winter. But what if we embraced the winter as a season that will end with a more powerful Spring? Imagine what it must have been like for Thomas when - a week later - Jesus appeared to him in his fullness, when Thomas placed his bare hands in the wound of Jesus side and his fingers in the nail holes in Jesus hand. The week of Thomas is always difficult, but Jesus encourages us to maintain our belief in those times, to seek strength in our faith in the dark night of the soul, to trust in his presence when he feels absent, and to wait expectantly the advent of this coming. He will come. The Spring will come. The resurrection is real. And Jesus is found in the waiting and in the coming.
Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email