What exactly did Thomas learn by sticking his fingers in the wounds in Jesus’ side? Was it just flesh, confirming that the person in front of him was a real person? Or was it something more? Scripture records his response as, “My Lord and my God!” [John 20:28], but what, exactly, did he mean? Did his touching confirm that the man standing before him was, in fact, Jesus, raised from the dead? Is that merely it? We know Jesus replied, “You believe because you have seen me…” [20:29]. Did Thomas only see what his eyes beheld? What if, in touching Jesus, Thomas had a vision?
There, in the wounds, is the entirety of suffering of man, the brokenness, the sin, the heartache, the death. But resurrected, the wounds are more than torn skin, muscle, and bone; they are something we cannot really comprehend, not anymore than the disciples could recognize the risen Jesus. They are glorified and perfected wounds. So maybe Thomas’ response goes beyond mere recognition. Perhaps we can translate it as, “My Lord and my God, it’s all true!”??
I have had a couple of setbacks with my health recently, one mostly a physical impairment that I will need to deal with, the other a bit more concerning. Suffice to say, during my trip to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park last week, I suffered a minor prolapsed stoma, which is a fancy way of saying that my brand new ileostomy is now unstable and requires special care. This might limit physical activities like cycling, golf, hiking, etc, but only time will tell. More seriously, a trip to my urologist on Monday revealed, in the doctor’s opinion, that the tumor we have been fighting these past four years, and which had grown into the rectum and somewhat into the bladder, is now active again. In fact, my intestine and bladder are now essentially connected to one another in what is known as a fistula (like a pore), which explains the chronic UTIs of the past several months. If the urologist’s conclusion is correct, then this is probably indication that the immunotherapy treatment is no longer working, and we’ll have to move to a fourth therapy. Having been on experimental therapy already, we’re certainly in the realm of (hopefully) cutting edge research.
This is all very difficult to digest (pun intended).
There are two questions running through my head. One is for my oncologist to answer next week after I have another CT scan: what next? The other is one that I continue to struggle with and which probably causes me as much anguish as the idea of death: is there really eternal life? In other words, is it all true?
My wife and believing friends reassure me that I’m living by faith. They remind me that Christ clinged to his life, too. But, nonetheless, with knowledge of so many saints in history who counted their lives as nothing and faced death with an almost joyful dignity, I cannot help but feel guilty for the disappointment that no doctor has given me the promise of a life after cancer. I sense in their demeanor, in what they don’t say, that they see in my chart an inevitable outcome that all must face but which lies not at my life’s horizon but directly in my path. But if it’s all true, shouldn’t I have peace with whatever comes to pass?
Today we celebrated the 15th birthday of my twin daughters, Sam and Caroline. Like any parent, I cannot believe it is time to teach them to drive; Caroline earned her learner’s permit today. We celebrated with tortas and tacos, friends and family, cookie cake. But as I’ve written before, it is also the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, and today marks the end of year five. Cancer statisticians love the 5-year mark, for some reason. It is a primary time-point in estimating a cancer patient’s survival–the five-year prognosis. If my doctors had known the extent of my diagnosis back in April of 2013, medical science would have given me about an 8% chance to make it to today. So, I have beaten the odds, and we quietly celebrated that, too.
I wonder, should I ask my oncologist the odds that I make it to 2023? No. I have never asked such questions, preferring to take it day-by-day.
A few weeks ago, Kim and I were guests on “The Jules Show” (88.9 in Athens, GA). The host asked Kim and me what Scripture we turn to for encouragement, assuming, I suppose, that we were memorizers. We’re really not, and, fortunately, she asked Kim during the recording and not me. Kim responded with a “mic drop” of “Be still, and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10]. If she had put the question to me, I couldn’t have given an exact reference, but I am fascinated, if that is the right word, with the resurrected body of Christ. That Christ would rise from the dead is incredible enough, but that he would ascend into Heaven in the same form is unfathomable. And, yet, that is what we are to believe. Thus he could descend at any moment and stand before me, as he did with Thomas. Would that cure me of unbelief? After all of these years of following Christ, do I still need to touch the wounds in his side?
On Monday, my friend and pastor, Jared, came over to check on me and pray with me. He prayed about my disease and pain. I prayed for him and his family. We prayed a long list of friends from church that each have their own struggles, which is really putting it lightly. As he continued with name after name, describing the personal circumstances of each, I had to open my eyes. To keep them shut was to imagine too deeply their suffering, almost to share in it. I wanted to cry out in desperation, “My Lord and my God! How can all of this be happening? When will it end?”
It is interesting that Jesus invited Thomas to touch his side. Jesus said to him, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side.” [John 20:27]. It is the invitation, in my opinion, that opened Thomas’ eyes. If you allow me the conjecture that Jesus gave Thomas a vision, I wonder what Thomas would have seen if he had faithlessly plunged his hand into Jesus’ wounds uninvited. This is wholly different from the scene of the poor woman in a crowd touching Jesus’ cloak and being healed of chronic bleeding; she touched him because she believed; she touched by faith (Luke 8:43-48). Unbelief scares me, and Thomas is the Biblical archetype of unbelief. If he had touched Jesus in like manner, the dark vision of Judas hanging from a tree comes to my mind. That’s no blessing.
It is best to wait patiently for the Lord [Psalm 27:14], He will call us in due time and reveal himself to us that we would know him. I remembered as Jared prayed that he was called for this purpose. And, praying with him, I remembered that I, too, had been called for this purpose. We prayed over our church, the body of Christ [1 Cor 12:27], and wounds mar it. It was then that I saw Jesus, hearing him call me to touch and believe. “My Lord and my God? Is it you?”
But still. My doubting mind refuses to believe that my eternal prognosis is 100%. It is the vision of glory that I long for. To picture myself in heaven. This would certainly convince me, right? Did Thomas get some sense of the eternal nature of Jesus, the resurrected body, the restoration of God’s people, the new heavens and the new earth? This is far too much to imagine, and there is no proof, only faith.
And God is faithful.
Even this morning, as I lay heavily in my chair, dealing with issues that prevented me from going into work, I received an email from a dear friend. She wrote, “You have been on my mind heavily this morning. I’m praying for you to be full of hope, be comforted by Jesus, and to have a gladness of heart that is palpable to those around you.” She then related a personal struggle and questioned, “I don’t know why I’m sharing that…maybe because I’m hoping that you, too, will have a longing for Jesus more than anything else. Maybe that hope and longing is the only thing to keep our gaze upward.”
I have a glorious vision for why she shared that.
My Lord and my God.
Note: I snapped this picture of the Golden Gate Bridge from a catamaran in San Francisco Bay as the sun was setting.