Faith: Information or Relation?

St. Thomas was told by his fellow Apostles that they had seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion.  They shared with him that information: “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25).  Having that information did nothing for Thomas as he declared he would never believe until he saw the risen Christ himself.  Perhaps he was miffed that Christ would appear to the rest and not to him.  He didn’t fully trust his fellow disciples or the Lord.  Perhaps just hearing that news was not enough to convince him of anything.  It takes more than information – even well attested information (!) – to believe.  Christian faith is a relationship with the risen Christ.  Theologian Christos Yannaras writes:

“The transmission of this knowledge to succeeding generations also presupposes an experience of relation–the Church’s gospel does not function as the communication of information…It is a relation of trust (faith) in those who once were eyewitnesses to his presence, in the persons who from generation to generation, in an unbroken chain of the same experiential participation, transmit the testimony of their encounter with the gospel’s signs.

Faith/trust is a constant struggle to maintain a relation, and the knowledge that faith conveys is the coherent articulation of that struggle. The struggle signifies an attempt to attain something without the certainty that one has attained it–however long the struggle lasts, nothing is sure or safe, nothing may be taken as given. The relation of life is gained or lost from moment to moment…

The only “objective” information compatible with the ecclesial event is the invitation “Come and see” (John 1:46), that is, a call for human beings to participate in specific relations, relations of communion with life, in a common struggle for each person’s individual self-transcendence and self-offering. And the goal is the knowledge that comes about when a person loves…

In a religion “faith” may mean the blind acceptance of principles, doctrines, axiomatic statements, the castration of thought and judgement. But in the Church faith (pistis) recovers its original meaning; it is the attainment of trust (in Greek, literally, “enfaithment,” epistosyne), the freedom of self-transcendance–a dynamic realization of relation, with knowledge as its experiential product.”  (Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, pp. 35-37)

 

St. Thomas: A Jewish Confession of Christ’s Divinity

St. Thomas Sunday:  John 20:19-31

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

One modern church historian comments on the confession which the Apostle Thomas utters upon seeing the Risen Jesus:  My Lord and my God!”

“How could a faithful Jew who had recited the Sh’ma since childhood, whose prayers were addressed to God the king of the universe, address Christ as God or Son of God, as the earliest Christians did? Hilary’s answer is that the Resurrection of Christ transfigured everything. When Jesus came and stood among the disciples and put his finger in his side, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” When confronted by the risen Christ one does not say, “How interesting,” but “My Lord and my God!”

The terms used by Thomas, Lord and God, are significant, and they allow Hilary [d. 367AD] to Drive home his point. “Lord” and “God” are the terms that occur in the Sh’ma, yet here they are used not of God the creator of the world and the king of the universe, but of Christ. Because of the Resurrection Thomas recognized that the one he knew, who had lived among them, was not just an extraordinary human being but the living God. “No one except God is able to rise from death to life by its own power,” writes Hilary. But his argument runs deeper. He wishes to say not only that the Resurrection revealed something about Christ to His disciples, namely, that he is God; his more penetrating observation is that Resurrection caused them to think about God differently. Once Jesus was raised, writes Hilary, Thomas “understood the whole mystery of the faith,” for “now,” that is, in light of the Resurrection, Thomas was able to confess Christ as God “without abandoning his devotion to the one God.” After the Resurrection he could continue to recite the Sh’ma because he had begun to conceive of the oneness of God differently. Thomas’s confession “my Lord and my God” was not the “acknowledgement of a second God, nor a betrayal of the unity of the divine nature”: it was a recognition that God was not a “solitary God” or a “lonely God.” God is one, says Hilary, but not alone.”. (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, pp. 91-92)

Death and Resurrection: Describable to Indescribable

Describable is Your being sealed in the tomb,

but indescribable is Your arising from there, O Christ!

For You appeared in the midst of Your disciples, O all‑powerful One.

 (From Matins of St. Thomas Sunday)

A part of faith is mystery.  Not everything involving God, even God’s own activity in the world, can be readily described or explained.  We say in our Liturgy that God is ineffable and indescribable.   We recognize our words about God are inadequate to the task of fully capturing the revelation of God and can only approximate Truth to the best of our human ability. So the above hymn from St. Thomas Sunday tells us Christ’s burial certainly can be described because it it well within human experience to give account of a person’s death and burial.  But what cannot be described – and in fact the Gospel don’t describe it – is Christ’s resurrection.  What is encountered in the Gospel is an empty tomb which is a sign of the resurrection.  Angels talking about Christ’s resurrection are also portrayed.   However there is no reporting about what happened to Jesus at the moment of His resurrection.

Whatever the resurrection might have looked like, is not illustrated in the canonical Gospels.  The resurrection is mystery, an action of the eternal God in space and time.  The gap between divinity and humanity is bridged.   Whatever distinguishes creation from the Creator is united in that event of the resurrection.  Its effects can be be known – Christ is seen living after His death and burial.   The implications of the resurrection can be discussed, and theology opens our minds to the joy of the Gospel of Pascha.  The event of the resurrection remains outside human description.   God’s activity is a new creation in which heaven and earth are united.

Our minds, hearts, souls and eyes are opened to something totally new.   We will never be able to describe this event, but we all can participate in it – through baptism and in the life in Christ.   Description will fail us, but experience is still possible.  This is the world of faith.  We can appreciate and even rejoice in things of God which we cannot fully describe or even comprehend.  God enters into the human condition and is both hidden and revealed in all that God does.