Saint Thomas and Sad Atheists


Some love sadness. Their heart is set upon heartbreak. If prolonged, sorrow becomes a friend, a miserable whimpering companion that, though sour, is nonetheless familiar. People sometimes cling to their complaints and cuddle up with melancholy. Their gloomy attachment grows worse when it brings attention and pity. They are disconsolate, but love to be consoled. As the injured risk addiction to painkillers, acquiring a new illness in place of the first, so the downcast may develop a dependency upon condolences, risking perpetual misery. Bonding with their desolation, they recoil at optimism, play down good news, and rehearse their whining woes. They are most anxious at the prospect of being happy, that their dark friend might be chased away by cheer.

St. Thomas was in a low mood when the others told him the Good News: “We have seen the Lord!” Having lost his friend, his hope, Thomas was elsewhere, sullen and mourning, when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. Thomas must have been tortured by the memory of his courageous words, “let us also go to die with him,” now reproaching himself for his cowardice and inconstancy (Jn 11:16). Stinging with shame, straying in a mist of loss and grief, he was in no mood to be cheered. When they bring him the Good News, he respond forcefully, “Unless I...put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Those are not words of hope, but of defiance. His reply is equivalent to “I will believe when pigs fly.” He is not optimistic but obstinate.

Strange to say, but Thomas did not want to believe. His hopes once dashed, nailed to the Cross, he did not want to risk another. It was easier, more comfortable, more certain, to nestle into pessimism and despair. Why be let down again? So what if the others were seeing ghosts. They were illusions of distressed minds. He would have to touch him to believe. Otherwise he would persist in the truth that God was dead.

Of course, Thomas has his encounter. Jesus appears to him physically, no mere ghost, but in the flesh. Yet his defiant doubt has lessons for us. It foreshadows much of our atheistic culture. Non-believers insist on doubt. They require a personal visitation from God to think otherwise. They demand to know, not believe. But doubt is a close kin of sadness. They go together. Those who persist in doubt gradually grow cozy. They nest in its shadows and jealously guard their homes. So many doubt, not because they are convinced, but because they are comfortable. For many of them, it is not our arguments, but our joy, that will coax them from their caves.