Rowan Williams on Doubting Thomas

It’s sort of Doubting Thomas day today, as he refused to believe until presented with the evidence, which he was on the eight day. Or was he? When we made the doubt programmes we asked Rowan Williams about Thomas. It didn’t make the cut. But here’s what he said.

MV Perhaps the most famous doubter in the Christian tradition is Doubting Thomas. Could he be a Patron Saint for us?

RW Well I think he’s been a Patron Saint for quite a lot of sceptics over the years. A couple of interesting things about the story we see in the gospel is that his scepticism is not just something that happens at that point. As a character he emerges in the gospel story as somebody who’s always critical, reserved.

When Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem with the disciples and they’re a bit reluctant because they say ‘they’re gonna kill you’, it’s Thomas that says ‘well alright, we all better go and killed then.’ A sort of Eeyore character. And then again in the story of the Last Supper it’s Thomas who when Jesus says ‘You know the way I’m going?’, says ‘no, we don’t.’ (Chuckle)

So clearly there’s a pattern emerging. This is a sceptic and the gospel says it’s quite important that in the balance of personalities around Jesus there is somebody who asks the awkward questions who is not a kind of Pollyanna optimist and who eventually will only be convinced by the confrontation of a relationship. At the end of the day, in fact, he says ‘I need to touch the risen body.’ But when Jesus appears to him as a risen body, Thomas doesn’t touch. He says ‘now, I see enough.’

MV So although it seems he’s looking for empirical evidence, that’s different?

RW It’s the encounter that finally makes the difference I think.