This past Sunday’s Gospel comes from the Gospel of John (Jn 20:19-31) telling the story of an important event in early Christianity when Thomas forever became Doubting Thomas. In this Gospel reading, Jesus appeared to the apostles after having resurrected and showed them his hands and side where he was pierced. But Thomas was not among the apostles when Jesus appeared and so was not so eager to believe that the Lord has risen. In fact, Thomas would have simply rejected Jesus’ resurrection if it wasn’t for Jesus allowing him to touch the scars from the wounds. We are led to believe that Thomas turned from doubt and sprinted towards belief.
The Gospel story also reminded me of the a character from Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that I saw awhile back; the character is Eustace Scrubb.
The character of Eustace is funny and witty, enchanting the viewer and inviting him to like Eustace. Eustace loves science and has a very prudent fear of the conventional law. He seeks to know, but constraints his knowledge to the sciences since the things in the sciences are the things he can verify with his senses—but only if it fits his worldview. He ridicules his cousins for believing in fairy tales and things that are “unseen.” In other words, for Eustace, everything that is, or can be, must be able to be scrutinized by scientific methodology.
However, unlike Thomas who needed empirical evidence to know that something is true and readily accepts such truth when empirically presented to him, Eustace does not accept empirical evidence as definitive truth. He only accepts the evidence as truth if it fits his worldview. For instance, after Eustace has been brought into the world of Narnia, he still rejects what he experiences as true and passes it all off as mere illusion—he witnessed a talking mouse, after all! Even when he may have accepted the “reality” of the magical world, he still holds on to “hope”—to see the British council and bring charges against his “captors.”
Given the world and nature of Narnia, Eustace’s “hope” is not the Christian virtue which recognizes the future attainment of some good that is hard to attain but is still possible; instead, Eustace’s “hope” is for the attainment of the impossible, which really is essentially a wish. In other words, it is possible for us to hope to fly in a plane next week, but it is only mere wishing to think that we will grow wings next week and fly.
There seems to be to be two kinds of unbelief in the modern age. The first kind of unbelief is the kind that is like Thomas’. It is the kind of unbelief that demands evidence and is willing to accept evidence if it presents itself. This willingness to embrace evidence allows for the conversion in the unbeliever at an intellectual level, given the sufficient evidence.
But there is another kind of unbelief, and a more rampant one, that is like that of Eustace’s. This sort of unbelief does not find faith reasonable since it requires the belief in something beyond the senses. It holds on to hope, but this kind of hope is not in something attainable, namely, that God does not exist. This hope, like Eustace’s “hope,” is not really hope, but merely a wish. Such a wish is controlled by the power of the pride of the intellect which confuses the great I AM who spoke to Moses with the I am who is a mere creature. Consequently, this is a wish that replaces “I am Thine!” with “I am thee!”.
But this second kind of unbelief seems a bit less genuine than that of Thomas’ since it does not conceded to evidence, even if it is empirical, as they are presented. It would rather call everyone else mad than to accept the very idea that it is a captive to its own madness. It thinks itself superior to those believing in something so absurdly impossible that what it is witnessing might as well be a dream—a dream from which it can never wake up. This sort of unbelief, in other words, cannot be convinced by any methods, even if it is the sciences. If it could be convinced by the sciences, then I would imagine that John Polkinghorn, Stephen Barr, Owen Gingerich, Francis Collins, and Peter E. Hodgson (just to name a few) might have done so.
Hope, however, is not lost for the this latter kind of unbelief. Like the character of Eustace, this second kind of unbelief can still come to the light of belief, but not by first intellectually assenting to religious principles. Eustace does not assent his belief in the world of Narnia and his conviction to the task of the Narnians until he was transformed into a dragon, caused by his greed. After the transformation, and the realization of what the cause of the transformation was, the viewer can tell that Eustace has now been caught by “the hounds of heaven,” since his approach to the task at hand for the Narnians and the world of Narnia is completely transformed. Likewise, the hope for an acceptance of God by the second kind of unbelief can only be achieved by a transformation in being. And when it finds this transformation and resides in more abundant grace it will be like Eustace—who speaks very little after his transformation—(or like St. Thomas Aquinas of old) and realizes that there is no longer need for speech, but only for love and praise.