Jesus’ words to Thomas are meant for us. Yes, they were first said to Thomas over two thousand years ago in the upper room in Jerusalem days after Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, they were intended to increase his faith in light of his doubting and fear. Yes, the early church and disciples heard these words for them, too.
When Thomas confesses his faith in the risen Lord, Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.”They are for us.
Let’s slow down and savour these words. Let’s look at three sections of this short sentence.
First, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.”
When do we not see? What are the times in life when God is unrecognizable?
In the face of great suffering or great love,
in the presence of death and dying,
and facing the difficult questions of living such as: Why do children suffer disease, poverty, persecution? Why do people who don’t deserve it, suffer? When the usual, easy answers don’t fit.
When we stand in the presence of a great mystery.
When everything points to everything except what is good.
When all words and ideologies fail.
Then, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.”
What are the qualities of these people who have ‘not seen’? These are people …
Who sometimes doubt.
Who are not certain.
Who don’t have all the facts.
Who can’t provide an easy explanation.
Who don’t have proof.
Who have done without.
Who have to trust someone else, and ask for help.
Who have to trust …
“Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.”
Finally, what does it mean to believe? To believe and to trust, are very similar. The two words appear on the faith cube. You might wonder why the authors of this toy decided to keep the two words separate even though they might, to our minds, mean essentially the same thing.
And yet, it is worthy to ponder the subtle distinction between the two. Martin Luther understood faith as meaning the addition of the two concepts: Belief + Trust, not as opposing realities but complementing in distinct ways.
Belief is a function mainly of the mind. When we discuss doctrines, creeds. When we debate interpretations of scriptures and statements of faith. To believe is to access the cognitive capacity of our brains. It is, in the lingo of psycho-babble, the left brain analytical side that relishes in rational thought. To believe, in short, is to think through it.
Trust, on the other hand (or, on the other side of the brain), is more intuitive. Trust does not require a full explanation. Trust does not need all the facts and arguments in favor or against. Trust is a function mainly of the heart. Trust lowers the center of intelligence down from the brain to the heart.
Trust is relational. Trust understands our need for the other, to be open to the other, to take risks for and with the other. Trust calls us out of ourselves, to get out of the isolation of all our mental activity – to reach out to the other.
“Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.”
Jesus affirms for Thomas and the disciples that to follow in the Way of Christ, especially to generations and people like us thousands of years after the fact, that we need to trust others, and trust ourselves. To believe in Jesus, is to believe the witness of generations of Christians before us, to trust their witness, and to walk in the way precisely when easy explanations and scientific proof fall short.
We don’t ‘trust blindly’. That is often the criticism of trust, when it feels like we would be making an irrational decision not based in fact or evidence.
But we are trusting the most capable and the truest part of ourselves when we let go of our cognitive compulsions and let go into the love that sustains the heart.
The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. “Perfect love casts out fear,” we read from the author of the second reading today. We need to confess that it is fear that keeps us stuck in our heads, and keeps us stuck on the ground. Major decisions in our lives, decisions that changed the course of our lives, decisions that were important to us – were they born out of fear or love? Were they more a movement of the heart or head? Or some combination of both?
A music analogy …
I have been learning a new musical instrument these last couple of years. Classical guitar. Which is different, a little bit, from the acoustic guitar that you often see in churches today, and listen to in popular music.
In comparison, the classical guitar uses nylon strings, which tend to produce a softer, delicate, more harp-like sound. The fingerboard is wider on the classical guitar, and the body – the bell – of the instrument is smaller. When you hold the classical guitar, the curve of the body, which is more pronounced, sits on your left knee (if you are right-handed). And rather than strum chords, you pluck separate notes on the classical guitar. It’s a beautiful-sounding instrument.
But as with learning to play any instrument, and staying with it, there is a progression that needs to happen from the head to the heart. Listen to what Barry Green, renowned double bass player, writes about when teaching another musician how to play vibrato on their instrument. Vibrato is rolling your finger back and forth over your string when playing a note.
“On my Pacific tour,” he writes, “I coached Edith, a bass player from the New Zealand Symphony. She had tried to use her vibrato in a number of different places in a slow, expressive sonata by Vivaldi and couldn’t decide where it ‘worked’ best. None of her experiments quite had the right feel to them.
“I wanted Edith to discover the best places for vibrato by herself, so I asked her to play the piece without making any effort to put in a vibrato. I asked her to imagine that her fingers, not her brain, would tell her what to do, and suggested that she only use vibrato when her fingers ‘screamed at her’ to do so. Since she would not have decided in advance which notes needed the vibrato, I was confident that her hands would be free to supply it unconsciously.
“Her performance improved immediately: Both her sound and her vibrato were smoother and richer.”
Obviously to gain this level of playing, Edith had to practice and practice and practice. She had to become technically proficient in playing the bass. But to begin to enjoy playing and hearing the sounds you are creating on your instrument, to discover the resiliency of performing and the joy of making music, the usual questions provided by the mind must be eclipsed by the heart.
In other words, the mind will give instructions, constantly critique, and fan the flames of fear and self-consciousness – all of which undermine the making of a beautiful sound. We need the mind’s work, to an extent. But we also need to be able to let go of what the mental activity can get rather compulsive about. We need to grow up, as people of faith.
Albert Einstein, the most eminent scientist of the twentieth century, you would think would defend the prominence of the mind over the heart, the rational over the intuitive. So, this quote from him might surprise you; he said: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Take his phrase, ‘intuitive mind’ to mean the ‘intelligence of the heart’.
Intuition relies on the capacity of trusting: Trusting the love, this capacity and capability within you, trusting the other who is willing to help, assuming the good intentions of others rather than immediately judging them – these are the attributes of one who has maturing faith. Especially, faith in God.
“Blessed are they who have not seen, yet have come to believe.”
1 John 4:18
Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, “The Inner Game of Music: The classical guide to reaching a new level of musical performance,” (New York: Doubleday & Company /Pan Books, 1986), p.113.