Dale Appleby

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Weekly Reflections

What does it take to believe? 11 April

What does it take to believe?

Poor old Thomas has been maligned. He was not a doubter. His fellow disciples were doubters, but he wasn’t. He was a straightforward unbeliever. A natural man, a man of facts. Of observable data. No ghosts or apparitions or wishful thinking for him.

If he was going to believe that Jesus had come back from the dead, he wanted to press the flesh, to check the wounds, to examine the body. And rightly so. No use believing an event for which there was no evidence.

Coming back from the dead was a big claim – is a big claim. It had never happened before in this way in the whole history of the human race. History was against it. Philosophy and theology was against it. Maybe such a thing would happen at the end of the world, but not in ordinary times.

If it was true it would mean that the greatest threat to human life had been removed. Genuine immortality might be possible.

As it turned out the scientific materialist Thomas was in for a great shock. Not only did Jesus offer his body for examination, but it was obviously a real body. Not a ghost or spirit. But a body with flesh and bones.

So is the story true? Is that what really happened to Thomas? How could the modern scientific materialist check this out? Historical events are not able to be observed in quite the same way as current events. Although one could easily doubt the truth of the reports of many current events. Manipulating images and sound bites, suppressing some of the story, putting a spin on it and preventing others from seeing the raw data – are ways of false reporting.

In this respect we are better off in some ways when we examine the stories from the ancient world.  Although the data is limited, it is also very public. And there are well established methods of historical inquiry.  Some modern attempts to put a spin on the Gnostic gospels, for example, have come up against solid historical critiques.

So it is possible to check the historical reliability of the reports of the resurrection. There is no doubt that a significant group of people not only believed Jesus had risen, but they gave their lives for the belief and changed the world in the process.

Belief has to be based on evidence and they have left enough evidence to believe. In this case it is not just a matter of believing the evidence, but believing in Jesus – which is what Thomas did.

Dale

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