Room For Me
For those of us who feel like we are the only ones who have ever failed Christ, the Gospel writers are quick to point out the commonness of our humanness. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the evening that would begin the journey of Christ to the cross, the failure of the disciples was palpable to him. Returning to his disciples in his hour of anguish, Jesus repeatedly found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked (Matthew 26:40). Jesus had not asserted a demand but rather had gently solicited their support. To think that a King would speak in such a fashion to his subjects is beyond imagination. He faced the emotional desertion of his friends only to be met by physical desertion upon his arrest: “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled” (verse 56). Moreover, he was betrayed by one of his own. He had given them so much. He had asked for so little. Yet they had failed him. And what was Jesus’s response to them? He went alone to the cross, where he cried out on their behalf and ours, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34). After the crucifixion, one can only imagine the burden of guilt and grief, regret and failure on the shoulders of the twelve. Unable to examine each of their responses in this space, let us consider just one among them. The one named Thomas—“Inquiring Thomas,” if you please. To straitjacket his likeness into the cast of a “doubter” would be to disregard his intelligence and the Master’s recognition of it. One must not forget that it was in response to his inquiring spirit that our Lord offered one of his grandest self declarations: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Thomas was the kind of mind that an apologist would wish for on the question side of an open forum. Intelligent. Probing. Sincere. And open to sound evidence. Let us consider a few postcrucifixion questions in this light. Have you ever wondered where Thomas was when the disciples were locked in a room in fear of their lives? Was he busy trying to catch up on a domestic “to do” list that he had not been able to finish in the midst of the week’s events? Unlikely. Was he sulking in a corner of his own, not wanting to socialize even with a small group of friends? Also unlikely. If the other disciples were hiding on account of their fear, what was it that kept him out? Was it his spirit of inquiry, courage, or both? Had he from a distance kept a steady vigil in the vicinity of the tomb of Christ, remembering his curious statement, “On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matthew 20:19)? Or let me ask a different question. Why did Jesus choose to appear to the other disciples in that room at a moment of Thomas’s absence? A clue perhaps reveals itself to us in the words of Frederick Buechner: “Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.” It was Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century who stressed that God was obliged to speak to us using images and analogies on account of our weakness of intellect to understand Him. In the sixteenth century it was John Calvin who said that God accommodates himself to our weaknesses. Calvin’s logic was that God knew our limitations, and because at times we cannot see the full picture, He presents us with a reliable guide to its contents, emphasizing the high points. In his book Doubting, Alister McGrath, who highlights those observations from history, goes on to present a powerful illustration to clinch the point. He reminds us that if we desire to see the stars or catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, we cannot do it in broad daylight. We have to wait until it is dark. The stars are still there during the day; we just can’t see them. Our eyes aren’t discerning enough to pick up their light during the day. The stars don’t need darkness to exist—but we need the darkness if we are to see them and convince ourselves that they are still there! Thomas needed such a moment. He needed his darkness so he could see the light. Did God care so much for one that He would tailor-make a moment of revelation? The Gospel writer gives us evidence that Thomas was compelled to engage in a weeklong exercise of thinking. It was the choice of the Lord, who first appeared to the disciples in Thomas’s absence, to reappear to Thomas only a week later. Why did Jesus wait so long? Perhaps he was giving him the moments Thomas so needed. Have you ever pondered Thomas’s thoughts during those long days and nights? Flashes of memories with Jesus—the Sermon on the Mount, the stilling of the storm, the raising of Lazarus, the healing of Bartimaeus—were no doubt near. The evidences were all being collated in a powerful journey backwards. Thomas was given time to take that journey. He was given space. He was given another chance. He was allowed to know that there was room in the heart of Jesus for someone like him. For just a little while, the lights had been dimmed for Thomas’s sake. And in the darkness of that week, the stars began to appear. And the Savior!
Arun Andrews is associate apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bangalore, India.