Back to Top

What evidence do you need?

What evidence do you need?

For a long time, I was a fan of ‘doubting Thomas’ (John 20:24-29); his willingness to ask hard questions, his unwillingness to accept at face value what others told him. In a way, he is a forerunner of the scientific method, ‘Without evidence, don’t believe.’

Now, I see other dimensions to this story. Yes, there is much to admire; yet, there are limitations in Thomas’ demand for proof.

When told of the resurrection of Jesus by his fellow disciples, Thomas declared, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails, I will not believe.’ When he met the Risen Christ, his doubts led to a powerful affirmation of faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’

Thomas was moved. It was a high moment; a positive role modelling of the willingness to query – it led to profound insight.

However, and here is the tension, Jesus immediately chided Thomas, ‘Thomas, have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

There is tension between seeing and believing.

What is the nature of the belief that is commended in the Risen Christ? Is it fact and evidence-based, or is it something else?

When we look at accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament, we discover a wide diversity of stories. The first account, Paul’s, describes a private, mystical, vision. Over time, the stories became more solid and tangible, more akin to a historical fact. Ultimately, Jesus could be touched, as Thomas discovered.

We observe a process here, a very human process. Initially, a new idea/ vision explodes with force and immediacy. Over time, though, the idea becomes encrusted. The immediacy of the idea fades. However, in becoming more tangible, ‘encrusted,’ it becomes more durable and reliable.

What to make of this?

Walter Wink, a noted New Testament scholar, writes: ‘The resurrection is not a fact to be believed. It is an experience to be shared. It is not a piece of data from history. It is the spirit of Jesus present in people who believe.’

For me, I discern a call to go back, as best I can, to the original vision: resurrection speaks of an unexpected possibility, a future we can’t imagine that is made present, a new way of looking at life, a conviction about what cannot be seen.

You cannot find conclusive evidence for such things. You can only be allured and risk what they point to.

While Thomas’ demand for proof led to a revelation, when we demand the same we may miss the allure, the invitation, the wordless wonder of something beyond understanding.

So often, in the life of the church, we look for tangible markers: buildings, budgets, programs. They are essential, but there is something that is more vital: insight, vision, Spirit and good news.

What evidence do you need?