"Rarely, Rarely Comest Thou Spirit of Delight"
Article byApril 2012
Rarely, rarely comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!
Wherefore hast thou left me now
Many a day and night?
Many a weary night and day
'Tis since thou art fled away.
P. B. Shelley
So wrote the poet, Shelley, suggesting that life had darker moments more than brighter ones. Though much modern Christianity tends to suggest otherwise, it is often the case of the spiritual experience of some Christians. There are the Eyeores and Puddleglums of the Christian community who tend to see the glass half-empty rather than half-full. One such is Thomas--Doubting Thomas as he is now been remembered by us all.
The scene is well known: Jesus had appeared on that fateful day that changed the
world--the day of resurrection--to the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem where
the ten disciples were gathered behind locked doors (John 20:19-31). Ten--because
Judas had already taken his life and Thomas had gone AWOL. Sometime during the following week (the text isn't precise here) the disciples find Thomas and say to him, "We have seen the Lord," but he replies, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe" (20:25).
A week after the appearance of Jesus to the ten, the scenario repeats itself, only this time Thomas is present. After Jesus has pronounced his benediction, "Peace be with you" (20:26), Jesus turns immediately to Thomas (the first time Thomas has seen him alive from the dead). And Jesus says to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe" (20:27).
What are we to make of this? At least three things come to the surface betraying how the Great Physician deals with despondent souls:
1. There is no personality type that Jesus cannot address. Thomas is a classic melancholic type, a temperament that we readily recognize as true of some in a marked degree and true of all to some degree. Like the greeting of Eyeore (which hangs on the study wall): "There are those who wish you a good morning. If it is a good morning, which I doubt!" These are souls which are anchored to gloom, who can barely lift their eyes from the ground, and for whom the good news of the gospel is too good to be true. Things are bad, really bad and no one, not even Jesus, is going to dispel that gloom. Jesus addresses Thomas and confronts his gloom head on--but, what gentleness!
2. There is no amount of stress that Jesus cannot relieve. For ten days (since the previous Friday of Jesus' crucifixion) Thomas had been in hiding, fearful of what might happen to him, troubled by the spectacle he had made of himself in the Upper Room ("How can we know the way?" he had blurted out to Jesus even after three years of instruction!). These were difficult days to be sure and we should be slow to judge, but Thomas wants to be alone, shunning even the company of fellow disciples and thereby missing the blessing of the appearance on the resurrection day. But whatever stress he feels, Jesus is there now and is determined to relieve it.
3. There is no amount of silliness that Jesus will not find a way to overcome. Yes, silliness is what I call it because that is what it is! Thomas's request to place his finger into the mark of the nails and to thrust his hand into Jesus' side is not a crisis of epistemology! It is pride, pure and simple. He is not about to be duped (as perhaps he thought the other ten had been). He is smarter then his colleagues, asking more profound questions to justify belief even though the risen Lord is standing before him having appeared though locked doors! But watch Jesus deal with this! What tenderness! What condescension! Asking Thomas to stretch out his hand and do as he desires. Did he? Did Thomas actually do it? The text doesn't say, but I doubt that he did. His spirit is broken and he exclaims, "My Lord and my God!" (20:28).
What does Jesus do with hard-headed, melancholy types who are capable of sulking, denial, and over-compensating for their weakness with grandiose suggestions that make them look smarter than others?
He brings them to their knees to confess his Lordship.
There can be no discipleship apart from that.
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Two Books on Scripture
John Henry Newman: A Biography
The Hole in our Holiness