is seeing believing?

let’s fact-check that

I often wonder how much of human history — especially the darker moments of history — can be attributed to misunderstanding. A misheard word, a mistaken look, can lead to all manner of distress in our lives. How many wars have been fought over a misinterpretation of something quite innocuous? (Which also brings up the point of taking a deep breath and making sure we know what we’re doing. More on that in a moment.)

The human race is making it even easier to not trust our eyes and ears. The falsification of images is becoming ever more elaborate and effective. The falsification of reality is becoming ever more elaborate and effective. One of the first major motion pictures to employ those techniques was Forrest Gump. Imagine, Forrest Gump meeting JFK and LBJ (and a few other folks)! We could the lament the technological trickery utilized for these counterfeit countenances, these fake faces, but the genie is out of the bottle. Think of it, though: police can use sophisticated aging tools to track missing persons long lost.

Here’s a little game. Can we distinguish between the faces of real people and those generated by computer? Which are real and which are fake? (answers given below)

Going back to my original thought, given how much more complex our ability for mimicry has become, how much more havoc can we create? We are well aware of the mischievous purposes for which the internet can be used. So often, we believe we are too intelligent and savvy to be taken in by bogus claims — disinformation and misinformation. I won’t get into discussing the ease with which the powers-that-be manipulate us into censorship by pressing those very issues.

Let’s look at one who historically has been derided by his insistence for independent verification of a claim pushed by his peers. In John 20, St. Thomas, given the news of a resurrected Jesus, has his doubts, which later leads to the affixing of his nickname. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,” he says, “and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (v. 25).

Honestly, it’s hard to fault him. It’s not like the others really got it themselves. For example, while taking Peter, James, and John down from the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus “ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” They agreed, knowing some things are better left unsaid. No, I’m just kidding! Rather, “they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean” (Mark 9:9–10).

They didn’t have the foggiest idea what the heck Jesus was talking about.

Could we say Thomas wanted to do his own fact-checking? Jesus agrees to it. “Do you want to see my hands and side? Here, look. Touch them.” Thomas is convinced. Jesus responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29). Is Jesus “blessing” Thomas out?

We should note that after Lazarus has died, Jesus plans to go back to the home of Lazarus in Judea. The disciples beg him not to go, understanding he has enemies there ready to stone him if he shows his face. Still, Jesus is determined. It is Thomas who steps forward and tells the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Thomas is ready, and expects, to lay down his life for Jesus.

Clinical social worker Jason Hobbs says, “Thomas was not simply looking for facts…the facts in the way that we think about fact…what is true and what is false… Thomas needed to touch in order to believe. He needed to touch something solid, not spirit, not feeling or emotion, but something real.” He needed to “see” for himself.

I think it’s a good thing we have a record of Thomas’ doubt. That gives reassurance for the rest of us who sometimes (and who often) doubt. I don’t think Jesus is chewing Thomas out — or even expressing disappointment. Let’s remember that it was the men who had trouble believing Jesus was back from the dead. The female disciples, especially Mary Magdalene, had much less trouble.

Still, Jesus puts the questions to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Is he disregarding Thomas’ experience? How does faith fit into all of this?

Something to note about faith: true faith is not blind faith. It is not a mindless leap into the void — or a mindless leap into the path of an oncoming truck! Faith has its own evidence. Faith has its own eyes. Faith does its own fact-checking. As the letter to the Hebrews says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Another version reads “faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen” (NASB).

A doubting Thomas — or Thomasina? “We’ll see.”

* for the faces on the left: fake, real, fake, fake

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James Moore

James Moore

lover of snow, dog-walker, husband of a wonderful wife, with whom I also happen to be a co-pastor (list is not arranged in order of importance!)