I once went to a party at which four different character artists were drawing portraits of each guest. It was interesting to see how each portrait was slightly different even though the person was the same.
The four gospels provide the same kind of effect. The Synoptic Gospels (those with similar stories, wording and sequence of events, such as Matthew, Mark and Luke) are similar, but each is unique, beautiful and powerful in its own way.
The Gospel of John is different than the other three. John’s account contains material that is original. During the leadup to Easter, John’s gospel is quoted the most because it offers a much fuller account of the appearances of the risen Jesus Christ.
In one of the most touching Easter stories (in John 20:19-31), we read about the apostle Thomas.
The apostles are shut away, doors tightly locked, contemplating the terrible events that led up to the Passover that year. We are told that Jesus came to them, stood in their midst and said, “Peace be unto you.”
No statement could have been more necessary since the apostles were likely fearful, in deep distress and experiencing great confusion and doubt. Scripture tells us the apostles were glad to see Jesus. He then gave them a wonderful gift, the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Thomas was noticeably absent. When he arrived, the others told him Christ had been raised from the dead: “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas exclaimed, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Eight days passed and the apostles were again locked away when Jesus returned. Thomas was then present. Jesus Christ said, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. ... Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
This story is the origin of the popular saying “Don’t be a doubting Thomas." But throughout the scriptures, the apostles, even though they tarry with the Master, regularly don’t quite seem to “get it.” Christ lovingly reproaches them for their lack of faith and of understanding.
But the question that comes to mind most when reading this account is this: Does Thomas really deserve the moniker?
All of the gospels depict the apostles as deeply flawed individuals. Christ tells the apostles in this story, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” The apostles were often "clueless." Yet Christ chose them, not the other way around.
If we were in Thomas’ position, how would we have reacted? Was Thomas just trying to avoid the pain of having lost his Master and the difficulty of the moment in which he would realize the magnitude of his loss? Was Thomas doubtful or just being realistic? His actions show he had doubts and questions.
Thomas wanted proof. He did not want a blind faith. Thomas was blessed to gain a perfect knowledge of Christ and his divinity: He no longer testified in faith but with a perfect knowledge. After the Savior's appearance to the apostles, the stakes grew much higher for all of them because they then had a perfect knowledge.
Most of us during our journeys of faith likely will fall into the category Christ referred to when he said, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Even so, we cannot base our faith on the experiences and testimonies of others. We must experience Christ for ourselves.
When I read the gospel accounts, I wonder how Christianity would be different if they had portrayed the apostles as superheroes, rather than the deeply flawed people they were.
I think the apostles were deeply flawed because we too are deeply flawed and yet not faithless. This story and other gospel portrayals of the apostles give us hope. Jesus continually reaches out to us even in our faithlessness and despair.
Christ lovingly beckons us. He does not reproach us for our lack of faith. He will answer our questions, but we first must ask. The question for us is: Are we prepared to accept those answers? Can we put aside our faithlessness and believe — even though we have not seen? Can we say as Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” with conviction? Christ admonishes us not to be faithless, but believing. This is an Easter message worth contemplation.
Mel Borup Chandler is a guest editorialist and writer for the Deseret News and ksl.com. His religious articles have been published by the More Good Foundation and translated into four languages. His email is [email protected].