And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
If ever Thomas should get a pass on his so-called “doubting” (see previous post), it should be because of how God worked his lack of faith into one of the most powerful and clear statements of Jesus’ divinity in Scripture. “Don’t be a doubting Thomas,” say the finger waggers and scolds. But were there not a “doubting Thomas,” we’d be denied that powerful confession, “My Lord and My God.”
Let’s dive a bit deeper on that.
How tempting it is to look at the Scriptures as a series of bungling behaviors on the part of man, followed by God’s need to have to “fix the mess” His people have made. He makes Adam and Eve, but they fall into sin. He gives the seed promise, but then the line of Cain begins leading to the flood. God saves Noah and begins anew; his descendants build the Tower of Babel. God calls Abraham; Egypt enslaves them. The nation of Israel is founded; they fall into periodic exiles. Indeed, the whole Bible seems to be a tale of God cleaning up after the messes man made. And here, Thomas bungles with his non-belief, and Jesus has to come and turn that into something greater. (As if Jesus came among the disciples the first time unaware Thomas wasn’t there, and that He forgot the purpose of an apostle was to be a witness.)
And this, in turn, founds St. Paul’s statement that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. We have a God who works our evil into good. The posture assumed here, if we might add some shades and hues of a certain mood, is of a God always playing catch up, like the harried mom of a three year old: “What have you gotten yourself into now!”
This understanding of God would go hand in hand with a specific understanding of man as well. God created the world perfect, intending man to be in obedience to Him, intending the creation to live in bliss forever, and then everything fell to pieces. God had to come out with “Plan B,” the Jesus plan.
The understanding of man going with this view is that man is created with the capacity of human choice, and when he made the wrong choice plunging the world into corruption, God had to work within the “universe” of man’s choices and work those choices to the best outcome. Hence Jesus, and why Jesus had to be a man. He had to be a second Adam, to do Adam correctly, the way he was supposed to be done in the first place. This is the universe of Paradise Lost.
Now, while for the most part there’s obviously a lot of truths to this way of looking at Scriptural theology, let’s change those shades and hues a bit. Let’s change them by introducing a postulate that’s actually extremely difficult to disprove: Jesus was no “Plan B,” because something that big wouldn’t ever be a “Plan B,” that is, if God is truly Almighty.
Jesus was always Plan A, which means God created the world with the advent and incarnation of Christ in mind. Furthermore, in the Gospel of John we’ve been contemplating how the entire Gospel is about the New Creation, culminating at the moment when Jesus said, “It is finished.”
So, by this perspective, When Genesis 2: 1 said, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished,” it was with Christ’s cross in mind. Not, as in, “OK, guys, I said I was finished, but you screwed everything up, so now, I’m really really finished.” But rather, as in, “It is finished, on this the sixth day, the culmination of the world’s creation. Jesus’ death was the “dotted ‘i’” and “crossed ‘t’” of Genesis 2: 1. God wrote into the DNA of the sixth day the death of Christ.
Does this mean God orchestrated and planned man to sin? No. He planned man, and man sins, and that was Plan A. When man sins, he is doing exactly what God anticipated already, insofar as He worked the death of Christ into the sixth day, and had His death planned from eternity.
Why did He do this? Gosh, who knows? We’re talking about a God who energetically names every star in the universe. Imagine how many consonants would be needed to get enough possible combinations of sounds to name every star in the universe. The size of the universe is staggering to contemplate, and yet our Lord made it in an instance, putting material stuff to His thoughts as simply as I’m typing out these letters and words. Ask Job to explain why God does what He does.
What does this mean for us? It means exactly what Thomas’ witness lays down for us. Our Lord and our God – that very God full of power and might – is… “mine.” “My Lord and my God.” He is God for us. Meaning, He is a good God. He is almighty and beyond our comprehension, and He is also a good God, who is indeed working all things for the good.
But I would argue it’s way more than a situation of, “Don’t worry about the evil in your life; God’s got this.” Rather, it’s more like, “The evil in your life is part of the grand plan of a good God, Who’s working on behalf of those who love Him.”
On these terms, we can try reading St. Paul’s words again, but backwards. We typically follow his words chronologically: (1) first something bad happens, (2) God works that bad thing for good, (3) and this is true for those who love Him. Our challenge, then, is to stay loving Him, lest we unravel the whole dynamic, and to see how evil can end up working good.
Let’s read them again, but backwards, as it were: (1) There are lovers of God (believers); (2) the universe in which they live has been perfected in God’s goodness from the beginning; (3) this includes all things, among which are evils. Only by this dynamic can St. Paul say that we should be thankful at all times for everything. Only in a world where everything is seen as good can we be thankful for everything.
Is this saying that evil doesn’t really exist? In a sense, it is (and we might note that St. Paul never brings up the idea of evil, but simply talks of “all things”) but only because our understanding of evil has been Gnostic. That is, we give evil an independent, anti-God existence and power, a force working against God. We look at the world as a battle between good and evil, and we see our God as one step ahead of the devil, always turning his evil work into something good for mankind.
On these terms, yes, I’d say evil doesn’t exist…in that way.
What then? I guess it boils down to whether you say Christ crucified is good or evil. See the point? Is confession of sins good or evil? Is praying “forgive us our trespasses” good or evil? Are sinners drawing near to Christ’s cross good or evil? And here’s the real intriguing question: Is the fact that situations developed requiring the inauguration of the Gospel and faith a good thing or a bad thing? Is faith the supreme purpose of God’s creation, or a contingency plan due to man’s fall? I think we’d have to go with the former.
Evil is a tool God has worked into the creation in His wisdom, part of the reason He also worked Christ’s crucifixion into the creation. Similarly Satan is but a tool of His work; as is death. And that universe described above in which human choice plays such a big role? Maybe with this alternative view the whole issue of choice sort of vanishes. What is choice, after all? Perhaps the evil is the choice, or the idea that choice means something. We’ve worked with these themes before, how evil was introduced into the account only as everything the creation was not, and the desire for that. Is choice simply another way of saying “the desire for not God”? Well, for whatever reason, God is the one who added evil to the creation when He uttered the word “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The only thing Adam knew about evil was, “everything other than what God created.” But here, now, is evil, along with Satan. What are they doing there? Why the option to choose against God, a choice worked into the very DNA of mankind, into all of us? Mind-blowing.
What was He perfecting by working these things into His overall plan? Again, who knows, but perhaps we get a hint of it in His words to Thomas, “ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith trumps choice.
But let’s close the loop of today’s meditation. Thomas is compelled to say “My Lord and My God” in a situation created by Jesus’ coming to the apostles at a time He knew Thomas wasn’t there, to draw out this beautiful confession. The takeaway shouldn’t be “naughty, naughty Thomas” but rather, what does it mean that Jesus – His incarnation, death, and resurrection – is an essential aspect of the nature of God Himself. No one but Thomas looked at the pierced one, in flesh, just risen, and said, “My Lord and My God.” No one but Thomas set up the context for Jesus to give us the blessings of believing without seeing.
We shouldn’t condemn Thomas. We should thank God for him. For again, as St. Paul said, “Be thankful at all times for all things.”