In John 20 it’s a race to the tomb but the disciple who won the race couldn’t bring himself to peek inside. I imagine him paralyzed outside the tomb, examining but not touching the strips of linen that still smelled of death. Filled with fear of what he would find inside the tomb and fear of what it would mean for him; deep grief over the loss of his friend; anger at everything that had happened in the previous days. Finally he follows the other disciple in then “he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? The resurrection of Jesus? Was it a moment of clicking? A dizzying second where all of Jesus’ words came rushing into his head and they all finally made sense? He saw the empty death cloths that Jesus had been wrapped in and it all clicked and he believed.
Later, Thomas, after adamantly claiming he wouldn’t believe unless he physically touched the wounds, sees Jesus in person. Jesus feels no awkwardness nor does he turn Thomas away because of his doubts. Instead, Jesus walks right up to Thomas, gives him what he needed, and calls him out: “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). And Thomas did. He believed and he proclaimed Jesus Christ as his Lord and God.
And as I finish reading the chapter, I am called to believe: “these (words) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). I am urged to believe in the identity of Christ, his words to us, his resurrection, and what his life means for my life right here and now.
Seems easy, but it’s hard. Jesus says “do not be unbelieving, but believing” (verse 27) but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I can want to believe him, trust him and desire him, but can still find myself unbelieving, untrusting, and apathetic. So what’s a human like me to do? Ask for help, because it’s never been about my strength to grab hold of him anyway. “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8). I cling desperately to him, as I should, but he is the one who does the upholding and the sustaining. So I ask along with the dad who wanted healing for his son: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) and Jesus welcomes that prayer. He cares that we come to him even if the first step is with hearts that still harbor some unbelief.
In “As One Devil to Another,” (a brilliant book similar to Screwtape Letters) Richard Platt says that God simply wants us to come to him and it matters little the way by which we come: “If they are brought up in a household where thoughts of Him are ever present and His existence is never questioned, where He is mindlessly obeyed out of simple inertia, He welcomes them. If they are totally devoid of the joy of going back to Him and make their pilgrimage purely on intellectual pathways, through reason, He welcomes them. If they return to Him purely through Grace, engulfed in the joyful knowledge of His presence but without two real thoughts to rub together, He welcomes them. And if they come to Him resisting to the last, only because every other attempt they have made at happiness and fulfillment has failed them, as surely in the long run it must, He welcomes them.” We have the audacity to doubt, we have silly hearts that are full of unbelief, and we take our time in trusting, yet still he wants us close. God tenderly and mercifully, yet at the same time powerfully and jealously, just wants us to go to him and then he changes and molds our hearts toward purity, love, and faith.
When we believe but have doubts or when we don’t want God but we want to want him, we can tell him that. So in the end we can come to God with any shred of belief we can find in our hearts, the tiniest desire to want him, and we ask him to help us with the rest of our unbelief. I believe, help me with my unbelief!