We live in a time where science is seen as the ultimate arbiter. Increasingly by some, science is seen as infallible. Simply mention that scientists believe, and whatever follows is accepted by some as the ultimate truth. There are those who believe that science is incapable of error, unaffected by bias, and immune from ulterior motives. In the minds of some, all we need in order to be intelligent human beings is science.
If those who believed only in science stopped here, that we might simply say that we disagree with them. But increasingly, it is not enough to simply make science the ultimate answer for every human question. Rather, increasingly, those who see science is the only mechanism for solving ultimate problems in the world, also believe that part of this quest is to ridicule those who maintain that some things can only be known by faith.
But while science can tell us what happens, science is incapable of universally determining what something means. But me give you an example. Take the case of someone in a hospital who is learning they have inoperable cancer. On the one hand, science can determine what cells are cancerous, how the cancer develops, and what the prognosis is. But science can’t determine for the individual and that hospital bed, what all this means? Human beings ask ultimate questions not always based on the observable, but rather, based upon that deep reservoir of meaning that is often based on more than the eye can see.
Consider the case of the apostle Thomas. His request may not seem that unusual through the eyes of science. The other apostles claim they have seen Jesus alive. Thomas witnessed with his own eyes the death of Jesus on the cross. Human beings simply do not rise from the dead. And even though the apostles gathered together and witnessed the risen Christ, the reality is simply too much for Thomas to accept. How can a mere mortal rise from the dead?
And so Thomas will not believe until he can be sure that this person claiming to be the risen Christ is the same Lord Jesus that he knew. He needs to see nail prints in hands and the marks of the sword in his side to believe. And as we read the gospel we see the Lord gives Thomas the opportunity to see the wounds, the results of his passion and death. Thomas’s faith begins when he is able to see with his eyes. But the faith of Thomas becomes mature when he is able to believe and see with his heart. Seeing the physical world will no longer be enough for Thomas.
This encounter reminds us that our lives are a mix of those material things we can see, and those spiritual matters which give our lives meaning. Just as the person learning about cancer does not simply want a litany of the facts, but will seek to describe and to discover what this newfound illness means in their life, so to do we need to discover meaning and purpose in our lives.
This cannot be done by considering the material world alone. In fact, we witness the mix of the spiritual and the material all the time. Why is it we find one person attractive and not another? How is it that parents can love their child from the first moment of their existence, without knowing anything about them? How is it that human beings discover what type of job they are supposed to have, what they are to do with their life, or with whom they are to spend it?
Like Thomas, we may need concrete signs in order to know that the Lord is present. We may be no better than Thomas in seeking only to believe in what we can see and touch. But if we can open our hearts to the grace of God, unlike Thomas we can come to know who Jesus is, and say with deep conviction “my Lord and my God.”