As fallen creatures, we find ways to suffer from anxiety over just about everything, even the life of faith. Faith seems easy enough when things are going well, but in times of crisis, when our faith is tested, we often realize how quick we are to doubt that God is really there to provide for us. This recognition can inspire in us a desire for greater faith, but can also produce anxiety, since we cannot seem to increase our faith no matter how much we try. This anxiety, however, is pointless, since the very nature of faith is such that we cannot acquire it by our own efforts.
St. Thomas the Apostle is (perhaps unfairly) seen as the exemplar of doubt in the Christian life. His defiant challenge “Unless I see…I will not believe” gives way to the confession “My Lord and my God!” at the sight of the risen Jesus. We all know the story, but we often misinterpret its meaning. We often hear our Lord’s question to Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?”, and suppose the answer to be a simple “yes.” In fact, the answer to this question is a bit more complex.
There are two causes of the assent of faith, one external and one internal. The external inducement for Thomas’ confession came from the sight of Jesus risen from the dead, and in this sense Thomas did believe because he saw. However, just seeing a miracle does not necessarily compel the assent of faith, as is clear from numerous occasions in the gospels (e.g., Mark 3:1-6). There must also be a movement within man that leads him to faith and brings the external inducement to fruition. This internal movement is nothing other than the action of God within us by grace. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3), not even if he has seen Jesus with his own eyes and put his hand in Jesus’ pierced side.
The Thomas narrative concludes with the beatitude “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” While it is true that we merit more if we believe without seeing, this is not something we can achieve by our own unaided efforts. Whether we see miracles or not, our faith depends upon God’s work. While there is no good reason to lose our interior peace, anxiety over our faith is one of the worst reasons of all. Simply to desire deeper faith shows that God is already at work in us, leading us to trust more fully in himself. St. Thomas, model of faith, pray for us.
Image: Peter Paul Rubens, The Incredulity of St. Thomas.