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The Incredulity of Folks like Thomas

Carl Ruby

As a college student I was required to take a course on the arts called "Man and the Arts” and I hated it. College students have a vicious habit of renaming courses and due to many of the paintings and statues covered in the class this one was derisively called ‘Man and his Parts.”

As I’ve grown older I’ve developed a love for religious art. My favorite painting is Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas painted in 1601-1602. Caravaggio himself was no saint. Four years after he completed this painting he was sent into exile for killing a man over a tennis match.

I just purchased a reproduction of this painting for the Narthex of our church. The bodily resurrection of Christ is a core belief of Christianity. There are so many things that intrigue me about this painting. I love the realism of the painting, the fact that Caravaggio chose to focus on the humanity of Jesus portraying Christ without a halo or the ephemeral glow that some artists used.

Nicknamed “Doubting Thomas,” St. Thomas doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He is a rational man carefully considering something as totally irrational and unfathomable as a resurrection. Faith hasn’t always come easy for me. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the virgin birth or possibility of resurrection. In this painting Jesus is actually carefully guiding Thomas’ finger into the wound on his side. Rather than rejecting Thomas for his doubts, Jesus helps him to believe.  While Thomas may be the only disciple who actually admitted his doubts, two other unnamed disciples look over his shoulder also looking for proof that something so hard to believe could actually be true.

I’ve always been intrigued by passages in the Bible that acknowledge and validate doubt.

"Doubt isn’t the enemy.  It’s simply a door some of us must go through on our way to faith."

The other story that comes to mind is the account in Mark 9 of a man who asks Jesus to save his son from life threatening convulsions. What parent can’t identify with the man’s agony and desperation.  Jesus asks him if he believes that he can heal his son and the man replies  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus then heals his son showing that he’s okay with weak faltering faith.  I often find myself praying in the spirit of this man’s honest plea for help. Doubt isn’t the enemy.  It’s simply a door some of us must go through on our way to faith.

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