commentary (david)

RETELL

Thomas takes a scientific approach to religion. He doubts the witness of his coworkers and friends until he can see for himself. Jesus provides him with the opportunity. He then calls blessed those who accept the truth of the resurrection without seeing for themselves.

REFLECTION

The Christian church lives or dies on the basis of believing the testimony of others. We have no records of the resurrected Lord appearing to non-believers. True Paul gets struck down on his way to Damascus. But that vision is in a significantly different category from the resurrection appearances. It is years later. Others with Paul see nothing.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Why?

Because the truly significant religious experiences are reserved for those who already have committed to the work. This is why a Quaker meeting for worship is different from sitting at home in your easy chair. There is an intention to meet the Christ spirit (or however you label that) in the silent waiting. The prayer, speak, for your servant is listening is the prior condition to hearing, not because God only speaks to the faithful, but because faith teaches us to know what it is we have heard.

SNAGS

Why is Thomas singled out for this object lesson? Is it because Thomas actually doubted and this is a record of that? Or was the spirituality of the gospel of Thomas already known by John and he saw it as a threat to his own community’s faith?

And for myself. Like the Twin I want certitude before I step out in faith. John is telling me through Thomas that I must step into the darkness before I will see the light. I fear falling.

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12 responses

  1. David, I tend to lean toward the ‘or…’ in your first paragraph. At the moment I am reading, and much influenced by Pagels, Beyond Belief. Her thesis seems to be that John tried to put down the Thomas people (or community), and worse, that this led to the verdict of Thomas as heresy by the bishops at Nicea. An interesting theory of course. It provides ammunition for those of us who are more commited to the approach of the Gospel of Thomas than to the orthodox doctrine.Meredith provided a valuable mediation, pointing out that both documents are able to encourage our faith.I think it is valuable for people to understand the relationship between Thomas and John, whatever it may prove to be.Well I’m rambling. Thanks, David for a good post.

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  3. Sorrt – typos – here it is again … David, it’s good to see you back.For those interested, here’s a link from Mark Goodacre’s site, to some excellent Gospel of Thomas resources. I don’t know much about it myself but I’m looking forward to learning more.You said …… the truly significant religious experiences are reserved for those who already have committed to the work… The prayer, speak, for your servant is listening is the prior condition to hearing, not because God only speaks to the faithful, but because faith teaches us to know what it is we have heard…. this is really interesting. Are only believers granted religious experiences or are only believers willing/able to recognise their experiences as religious?Can a religious experience turn a non-believer into one (you mentioned Paul) or will a non-believer discount the experience. For all we know, non-believers did have visitations from the risen Jesus but they go unrecorded or unrecognised.

  4. Crystal –I think that when a faith community is doing its job properly it assists in the discernment process — it helps people to recognise their experiences as religious and helps them to make sense of them.When a faith community is not doing its job properly it isolates certain people whose religious experiences don’t quite fit the criteria and then burns them at the stake or crucifies them along the road into Jerusalem.

  5. All of You: What an intelligent blog this is! Mind if I blogroll you? So reflective and well balanced.I’ve never been fond of that line, “blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Frankly it’s always struck me as far from “inspired.” More like an obvious contrivance designed to encourage minds to be non-inquiring by holding out the carrot of being especially “blessed” for taking such an attitude. But believing without seeing is not the way and the life for everyone. For some, yes. For others, no.Speaking personally, the path to God and the path to truth, as closely and honestly as I can perceive it, are identical – or my faith becomes a fiction.Tomorrow around noon I’ll leave off with my frivolity of the last couple week’s “vacation” and back to business with a post on forgiveness.

  6. Hi Paul :-)You siad …But believing without seeing is not the way and the life for everyone. For some, yes. For others, no…. I agree. Maybe there’s a difference between believing and knowing. The disciples saw the risen Jesus and knew there was life after death. But we who only hear the tale, how can we “know”? Perhaps religious experience bridges the gap so that we can believe even if we can’t know?

  7. Although Thomas takes a scientific approach, I am struck by how he made himself available to receive the truth. I like that. I have a dear agnostic friend that claims to have “an open mind, but not so open that my brain falls out” when it comes to all things spiritual, but in reality his mind is closed. He isn’t available for receiving the truth. As far as stepping out into the darkness, I see the reality of the saying that those who have not seen and yet have come to believe are blessed. Finding intimacy and depth with God has often required me to step out of what is known and comfortable, often with the criticism of other believers who don’t understand why I’m not satisfied with the status quo.

  8. I am delighted to see new responders here to the study: Welcome Paul and Tylwa! As Larry mentioned, I am eager to more fully examine the similarities and differences between Thomas and John. Could it be, that as Paul commented here, that when John’s Jesus states, “blessed are those who believe without seeing,” it is just a contrivance, a way of putting down Thomas’ gospel? Or is there an element of spiritual truth to be uncovered within this scripture, that in our rationality we may be overlooking? I place my ‘faith’ on the latter.

  9. Crystal: I find it hard to conceive of a religious experience that today would allow anyone to know that Jesus was resurrected. If someone told me they’d had such an experience, I might find myself convinced they’d had a significant religious experience, especially if it led to positive change in their lives. I don’t think that I would share their interpretation of their experience if they told me it consisted of “knowing” that Jesus was resurrected.Meredith: It becomes a question, perhaps, of what faith is.

  10. Well David, you certainly hit the spot with this post: you have attracted all of the best minds to our blog.You said, “truly significant religious experiences are reserved for those who already have committed to the work”: for many years I’ve witnessed to my own experience that I’ve never taken a step for God without him immmediately carrying me about a mile.”John is telling me through Thomas that I must step into the darkness before I will see the light”: It is a leap of faith. The only way we will ever change (as we must) is when we do something that goes against the grain of our self interest, although I must say that wasn’t true to my initial experience, which was a cry for help.Crystal, thanks for the link; I have found it valuable.”Are only believers granted religious experiences”: well Balaam had an experience with his ass. God often has to use a two-by-four to get our attention. Re “believing without seeing” that sounds to me like the faith of a little child; and we must become as a little child…. etc. However if we remain like little children all our lives, then we never grow up spritually. Paul said I fed you with milk, and you still children and unable to eat the meat of the gospel (or something like that). The initial experience is childlike, but God expects us to grow up spiritually (something ‘fundies’ in general have refused to do.Twyla, most agnostics (and certainly atheists) do have a closed mind; they have given an uncritical acceptance to some idea that keeps them from recognizing God.A man named Leslie Weatherhead (a Brit in fact) many, many years ago wrote a book entitled The Christian Agnostic. I once found it very useful.

  11. Larry – thanks for the book recommendation. It looks very interesting. I’ll have to check it out. Maybe it will help me in relating to my friend. Or maybe it will be a help to me with my own doubts and questionings.

  12. I’ve always seen the story of Balaam and his donkey (ass) as evidence that God really didn’t want his folks taking the bible nearly as seriously as we (generally) do.

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