I couldn’t help but think of that as I prayed with this week’s Gospel reading from John. This story features Thomas, who has come to be known as … “Doubting Thomas,” right? Second only to Judas, Thomas often is viewed in a negative light over this reading. There is a reason I had you put down your bulletin inserts today. I used a different translation this morning … the “AAV” (that’s Anjel’s Authorized Version … not available in stores!). Did you hear the word “doubt” in that reading? No. Doubt is not Thomas’ issue. In fact, doubt is a constituent element of our life in faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt – the opposite of faith is certainty. If you’re certain of something, do you need faith? Of course not.
Poor Thomas has been labeled the one who “doubts” because of how Archbishop of Canterbury Lancelot Andrewes and his team translated the word a;pistoj for the 1611 King James Bible. This word is the negation of the word pistoj which means “belief,” “faith,” and “trust.” So a more accurate rendering would be to say that Thomas was “Unbelieving Thomas” or “Faithless Thomas” – which is far beyond doubt.
If we recall back to the 11th chapter of John, when Jesus prepares to go to raise Lazarus from the dead, it is Thomas who says to the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It is faithful Thomas who is prepared to die with his Lord. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, Jesus has been arrested, tried, convicted and crucified – and Thomas and the other disciples are cut adrift … or so it seemed. For whatever reason, Thomas is not present when Jesus first appears to the disciples. When the disciples tell Thomas what happened in his absence, Thomas just can’t go there – once burned, twice shy. He declares that unless he can touch the wounds of Christ, he will never, ever believe.
Now there are those Christians who would tell you that one who believes in Christ and reject that belief is worse than an unbeliever who never heard the Gospel. If that’s true … why did Jesus return for Thomas? Jesus could have just rejected Thomas in turn, right? But instead we hear that Jesus returned … specifically for Thomas. You see, Thomas was ohana … and family means nobody gets left behind.
Now when one uses the words “left behind” these days in a Christian context, thoughts often turn to the series of books by the same title written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins which espouse a theology known technically as dispensationalism but more commonly called rapture theology. There are various nuances of dispensationalism, but the core of it is attributable to an ex-Anglican priest named John Nelson Darby in the mid-19th century. In a nutshell, rapture theology states that when the Second Coming of Christ occurs, the true believers will be raptured or taken up to heaven with Christ and the unbelievers will be left behind to face a 1,000 year reign of the Antichrist who will then be defeated when Christ comes a third time at the end of all things. At that point, the believers will be taken to heaven and the unbelievers will be annihilated.
But there’s a big problem with this. If we take the entire body of Scripture as a whole, there is no reference to a third coming of Christ. None … zip … zilch … nada! We state it clearly every Sunday: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again (not Christ will come again for some, but leave others behind to face tribulation, and then come back again but only for the believers). Scripture just does not say that. So, when I field those inevitable questions about what I think of the rapture and the Left Behind books, I answer plainly: It is heresy – pure, unadulterated heresy! Read those books as science fiction if you will, but do not base your belief on how Christ will come again on them.
Instead, return to the Scriptures … return to this passage in John. Thomas, the unbelieving faithless one, is the very one to whom Christ comes! This is good news! Jesus asks him why he has been faithless and encourages him to believe. It is then that Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” – the very first disciple to claim Christ as God.
It is the great, deep desire of our Creator to reconcile the whole cosmos back to his heart. St. Gregory of Nyssa essentially said that the whole of creation is spun out of God’s heart and is destined to return there. We are God’s ohana – and so are all the people whom you meet and interact with every day. Some of them believe and some do not. But if what holds true for Thomas holds true for all of us, it is the will of God that not one should be lost. And if Christ reached out to Thomas, as the Body of Christ we are to reach out to others to tell the good news of God’s saving grace in Christ. This is our call – to reach out in Christ’s love to God’s ohana … because family means nobody gets left behind.