Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.
A very beautiful portion of St. John’s Gospel takes us to the midst of that mystery-charged time between the Lord’s Resurrection and His quitting the world. At that moment, the disciples must have felt they were both in and out of this central fact of history; they must have had to ask themselves over and over again whether or not what they saw before their eyes was really and truly happening; and yet these events were impressing themselves upon them more intensely than reality. It was a time when their innermost being was disengaging from the associations and obligations of the dying world of the Old Testament, and turning toward a new order of things whose direction they could not yet understand.
It was a strange life they led — frightened and at the same time full of boundless hope. Soon they were to be in the room together, soon by the sea; soon they would be walking on the streets — and time and again, they would encounter this mysterious Figure, suddenly, as if out of another world. The Figure speaks to them, instructs them, plays upon them with the exhalation of His power.
So at one point they were seated in a room together, the doors bolted for fear of the Jews. It was still only a few days since the Lord had been put to death. Unrest was abroad. It had in fact received a fresh impetus from the strange news that had come from the grave. And there Jesus stood in the room right in their midst, and wished them peace.
“Peace be upon you.” These words make us reflect. Jesus had indeed said the very opposite: “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” And both are true. Whoever comes to Jesus receives His peace — “that peace that the world cannot give”; the peace that consists of the believer’s certainty that God exists, God lives. God is He Himself, the one and only; and He loves me, and nothing can tear me from His love. But the sword is also there. The coming of Christ, the summons from God, does not permit the one who is called to go on living as he pleases. He has a rude awakening from his peaceful earthly existence, disrupts his ways, and turns away from many things that are charming and beautiful in themselves. Peace and a sword: Christ brings both. Both are names for the one thing whereby God comes to us in Him, draws us to Him.
The disciples were frightened; they did not know whether it was He or, as it says in another passage, a ghost. His presence produced shock. His presence filled them with fear. What could it be, that went through one so? Is it He or something else? He calmed them down. He showed them His hands and His side. They recognized Him and were glad.
Once again He bade them be at peace. This time He meant peace toward the world outside as well. They were to carry His message out into the world, as well as that sword which always goes together with the peace of Christ. “I came upon an errand from my Father, and now I am sending you out in my turn.” They were not to carry out the Word alone, but the living power of God itself, the very peace, the very sword: “With that He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” He bestowed on them the effective principle that worked within Him, the power of God’s Spirit, which touches the very heart, releases, and fulfills — the power that purifies and heals: “When you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven.”
“There was one of the twelve, Thomas, who is also called Didymus, who was not with them when Jesus came. And when the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ he said to them, ‘Until I have seen the marks of the nails on His hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, you will never make me believe.’ ” Thomas appears to have been a realist: reserved, cool, and perhaps a little obstinate.
The days went by, and the disciples went on living under this considerable tension. After a week, they were together again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. The same thing repeated itself. Jesus passed through closed doors, stepped into their midst, and spoke: “Peace be upon you.” Then He called the man who was struggling against faith: “Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe!” At this point, Thomas was overwhelmed. The truth of it all came home to him: this man standing before him, so moving, arousing such deep feelings within him, this man so full of mystery, so different from all other men — He is the very same one they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered: “Thou art my Lord and my God!” Thomas believed.
Then we come upon the strange words: “And Jesus said to him, “Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.’”
Such words as these are really extraordinary! Thomas believed because he saw. But our Lord did not call him blessed. He had been allowed to see — to see the hands and the side, and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed!
Perhaps Thomas had a narrow escape from a great danger. He wanted proofs, wanted to see and touch; but then, too, it might have been rebellion deep within him, the vainglory of an intelligence that would not surrender, a sluggishness and coldness of heart. He got what he asked for: a look and a touch. But it must have been a concession he deplored having received, when he thought on it afterward. He could have believed and been saved, not because he got what he demanded; he could have believed because God’s mercy had touched his heart and given him the grace of interior vision, the gift of the opening of the heart, and of its surrender.
God could also have let him stay with the words he had spoken: in that state of unbelief which cuts itself off from everything, that insists on human evidence to become convinced. In that case, he would have remained an unbeliever and gone on his way. In that state, external seeing and touching would not have helped him at all; he simply would have called it delusion. Nothing that comes from God, even the greatest miracle, proves out like two times two. It touches a person; it is only seen and grasped when the heart is open and the spirit is purged of self. Then it awakens faith. But when these conditions are not present, there are always reasons to be found to say solemnly and impressively that it is all delusion, or that such-and-such is so because some other thing is so. Or, the excuse that is always handy: We cannot explain it yet; the future will enlighten us about it.
Thomas was standing a hair’s breadth away from obduracy and perdition. He was not at all blessed.
Blessed indeed are “those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but who find God’s message in everyday life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but who know that everything coming from God must remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring. Those who know that the heart is not overcome by faith, that there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes. What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly, does not disturb freedom, and leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart. And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted; who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, and inclination to “know better”; who are quick to hear, humble, and free-spirited.
Those are called blessed who are able to find God’s message in the Gospel for the day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular; or in phrases from the Law they have heard a thousand times, phrases with no quality of charismatic power about them; or in the happenings of everyday life which always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety — and then again some kind of success, some joy, an encounter, and a sorrow.
Blessed are those who can see the Lord in all these things!
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Meditations on the Christ: Model of All Holiness, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.