A Change in Perception

By Marty, Peter W. | The Christian Century, April 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

A Change in Perception


Marty, Peter W., The Christian Century


John 20:19-31;

1 Peter 1:3-9

"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

Those of us whose only contact with the world of equestrian competition is via the television set find the elegance and ease of these leaping beasts to be almost surreal. We marvel at the calmness of the riders. We admire their cool focus as they vault their way over the hurdles. Is it second nature for these athletes? Have they some extra instinct that the rest of us lack?

Hardly. Seasoned teachers of the sport will tell you that even the greatest riders face a common obstacle: their own perception. Some of the most respected equestrian study guides devote whole sections to the subject of a rider's perception. Unless the rider can manage to approach the barriers with a certain anticipatory confidence, he or she will never become adept at jumping. One author shares this no-nonsense advice for overcoming hesitation: "Take your heart and throw it over the fence. Then jump after it."

When Thomas the Twin has his closed-door encounter with the risen Christ, unbelief isn't the issue. Perception is. Although "doubting Thomas" is the name plastered on anyone displaying skepticism, Thomas isn't a doubter. He is an empiricist. He is bent on historical concreteness. Until his startling confession, Thomas is incapable of seeing as Jesus would like him to see. His laboratory mindset keeps clouding his perception. More than anyone else on this day, Thomas would love to link the risen christ with the Crucified One. He is such an empiricist, in fact, that he provides the church with the lasting image of actual nail prints in the body of Jesus. (These words of Thomas, suggesting that Jesus was nailed to the cross, give us a detail which none of the evangelists mention in their accounts of the crucifixion.

Thomas wants proof. In the end, all he ends up with is presence-Jesus' presence. Thomas's sight problem is caused not by a detached retina, but by a mistaken perception. Unable to take his heart and throw it over the threshold of death into resurrection territory, Thomas comes up short. Way short. Only after the presence and the invitation of Christ seize hold of this empiricist does his perception change. Then he unloads one of the great confessions of the New Testament: "My Lord and my God!"

The new angle of vision that Thomas brings to bear on his faith inaugurates a new age for the church. With his newfound perception comes a fresh blessing for successive generations. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe," says Jesus. Physical sight is no longer requisite for faith. …

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