A lot of people today think that science has answered most all of our questions and religious answers don’t need to be taken seriously. And this is kind of unavoidable. We live in an age of science. We live in an age of reason and evidence. It’s sometimes hard to see the place of faith. In fact, many people today, even some Christians, define faith as the opposite of reason. For many in our culture, faith is believing in something without evidence. Many will talk about Christianity as just a blind leap of faith, a leap of faith that they’re not willing to take without evidence.
But of course many Christians are quick to be defensive and respond to such claims. They’ll point out all of the evidence that we have for believing that the things the Bible talks about are true. Christians will use philosophy to show that believing in God is actually reasonable. They’ll show how we can trust that the writings of the New Testament are historically reliable. They’ll even talk about how believing that Jesus rose from the dead is actually the most rational interpretation of the evidence we have.
And I don’t want to belittle any of that sort of thing. I enjoy studying apologetics as much as anyone and I think it’s really important. But too often our apologetics plays into the false assumption of our age of reason that evidence is what creates faith. We think that if we could just present the right evidence to people, with the right arguments, then of course they’d believe. They’d have to, right?
But not only is this simply not true, but this misunderstands what faith is in the first place. Sure, there may be evidence for the things that we believe and that can be quite helpful to us. But our faith, our trust in God, is not created by that evidence. Evidence does not create faith; God does. More specifically, the promises of God create faith. Faith is a response to a promise. This is why the small catechism talks about faith as fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Fear, love, and trust are not things that we can manufacture for ourselves. You can’t fake them. They just happen. They’re a response to something else: God’s promises.
Another way that I like to explain this is that faith is not something that we do with our head, but it’s something that we do with our hope.
Thomas and Faith
To explain what I mean by this we’re going to take a look at John 20, where Thomas comes to believe that Jesus has actually risen from the dead. Because I think that, ironically enough, Thomas has a lot to teach us about what faith actually looks like.
So far in the Gospel of John, Jesus has taught the people, he’s been arrested, he’s been tried, and he’s been crucified and buried. And of course he didn’t stay dead, but he rose from the dead. And then Jesus starts to make appearances to his disciples, who apparently didn’t fully realize that this was what was going to happen. He appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden and then he appears to the disciples. He tells them, “Peace be with you,” and he shows them his hands and his side; he shows them the marks in his hands where the nails pierced and he shows them the wound in his side where the Roman centurion stabbed him with his spear.
But, as we soon find out, Thomas is not with the disciples when Jesus appears to them. And when they go and tell him what happened, he doesn’t believe it at all. Now, sometimes we call him doubting Thomas, but doubting Thomas doesn’t really do it justice. Really, at this point, he’s unbelieving Thomas. He’s not saying that he’s not sure whether or not this actually happened. No, he’s saying that there is no way that Jesus has risen from the dead. He’s adamant about it. He effectively says, “Unless I stick my finger into the nail wounds in his hands and put my hand into the spear wound in his side, I ain’t never gonna believe.”
Now, at first glance it seems that Thomas has a lot in common with people in our day. He’s not going to believe any of this resurrection stuff unless he has some good and proper evidence for it. And I think that sometimes we think that Thomas’ real problem is that he’s demanding evidence. We think that he should’ve believed even without evidence, without seeing; After all, we say to ourselves, isn’t faith believing without evidence? Well, not quite. I don’t really think that that’s the point here. After all, later on Jesus is more than happy to provide him with the evidence that he demanded.
Faith is trust. Faith is something we do with our hope. It’s not about evidence at all. Evidence can be helpful, but evidence or lack of evidence does not create faith. In other words, you can trust another person whether or not you have evidence. You can also distrust someone with our without evidence. The evidence might play a role, but trust is something different.
C. S. Lewis has a great example of this in his book, Mere Christianity. He talks about a man going into surgery. The man might know that his surgeon is an excellent surgeon, that he always does the job. He may have even had surgery with this surgeon before. He might know in his head that his surgeon in trustworthy. But that’s not the same thing as actually trusting his surgeon. The evidence might help. But when he’s there lying on the operating table about to go into surgery, he may very well find that despite all his knowledge, he is terrified. There is a world of difference between knowing that his surgeon is trustworthy and actually trusting his surgeon and confidently taking comfort that his surgeon will keep him safe.
Thomas’ Real Problem
So if Thomas’ real problem is not that he’s demanding evidence, then, what is Thomas’ problem? What went wrong?
Thomas’ problem is that he does not believe the words of Jesus. Remember how Jesus told them that this was gonna happen. He doesn’t actually trust Jesus. If he did, then he wouldn’t be rejecting the other disciples’ message that Jesus has risen from the dead. If Thomas is like the man laying on the operating table, he’s freaking out and running out of the room still in his hospital gown.
Think about how many times Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going to die and that he’s going to rise again. You would think that by the time Jesus is arrested and dies that the disciples would get it. But of course they don’t. When Jesus is arrested, they get scared and they run away. They abandon Jesus. They lose all hope. They think that now that Jesus is going to die everything they were working toward with Jesus is now all for nothing. They thought that Jesus was the Messiah, but apparently they were wrong. They backed the wrong horse.
In other words, Thomas and the other disciples should’ve known that this is how it was going to go down. Jesus had told them ahead of time that he was going to die and rise and if that weren’t enough, the Old Testament Scriptures, which they knew very well, testified that the Messiah was going to suffer and die. Thomas’ problem is not that he’s demanding evidence. His problem is that he didn’t trust the word of Jesus or the word of the Scriptures. He didn’t think that it was possible for Jesus to really be the Messiah if he died.
If Thomas had actually had the kind of faith that trusted what Jesus had said, he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did when the other disciples told him that that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. If he had taken to heart what Jesus had said, he would’ve said something like, “Of course he’s risen! You didn’t think the Messiah could stay dead, did you? I know the God I worship and I know the Jesus that we’ve been following. God’s not going to let his Son stay dead and Jesus is not going to abandon us. Of course he’s risen.” That would’ve been what trust in the words of Jesus would’ve looked like for Thomas.
Of course, that’s not how Thomas responded; he responded in unbelief. But Jesus refuses to abandon Thomas and leave him in his unbelief. Thomas is one of his own. And Jesus will not abandon him.
So about a week later Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time including Thomas. And notice that Jesus doesn’t scold Thomas; he doesn’t rebuke him. He offers him exactly what he asked for. He says, “Alright, go ahead, stick your fingers into the nail holes and put your hand into my side. Stop disbelieving and believe.” And as soon as Thomas is struck with the words of Jesus, he responds with true faith: he worships Jesus; he exclaims, “My Lord and my God.”
Faith Begins With God
And this event is a good example of why we say that faith is really God’s work, not ours. God creates faith through his word of promise, just as Thomas’ faith was created by the words of Jesus. Faith is not a blind leap without evidence. Faith is a trusting response to the promises of God. Faith begins with God. It begins with his promises. God says to you, “My son has died for you; Your sins are forgiven. He has risen for you; death has no hold on you anymore.” And faith responds by saying, “Yes. Whatever you say Lord.”
And if at this point you worry that your faith is weak, that it’s not strong enough, then hear this: Faith will still have doubts. Faith still struggles. Of course it will. But faith trusts in the one who is able to overcome our doubts. The strength of your faith does not come from you, from your own ability to trust God. The strength of your faith comes from the one whom you have put your trust in. Any faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the strongest faith there is.
Faith is also future oriented. It looks ahead to the future when God will make good on his promises. For Thomas that meant that he should’ve trusted what Jesus said: that he was going to rise again, that Jesus’ suffering and death was part of the plan from the beginning. Thomas should’ve looked ahead to the future in faith, knowing that God was going to make good on his promises.
For us, it’s the same thing. We also look to the future in faith. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he told his disciples that one day he was going to leave them. But even still, he tells them, when things get tough, when it looks like all hope is lost, have no fear. Why? Because Jesus is coming again. Just like how Thomas could look ahead to the resurrection of Jesus, we can look ahead to the day when Jesus comes again. On that day Jesus will raise all of his people from their graves to new life. He will raise his people from the dead to life without pain, suffering or heartbreak. He will remake the heavens and the earth perfectly just as it was in the garden of Eden. And in that new creation God will dwell with his people. They will be his people and he will be their God. One day you yourselves will see this. You will see Jesus returning; you will see the new creation with your very own eyes. You will live in the presence of God and one another, sins forgiven and hearts made new and clean forever.
This is what Christian faith looks like. It looks like holding on to God’s promises for dear life. Faith is listening to the word of Jesus and saying, “Amen, amen, so be it.” Faith looks ahead to the future and trusts that God will make good on his promises.