Witness to Life
“What are we, chopped liver?” Thus, I imagine the indignation of his fellow apostles when Thomas refuses to believe their claim that “We have seen the Lord.” Why does Thomas not believe them? And how should they respond to his unbelief?
This is the second time I am writing about lessons that prolifers can take away from John 20. On the other occasion, I focused on the Lord’s instruction to Thomas. But now I want to call attention to the relationship between Thomas and the other ten apostles.
The ten had rejoiced at seeing the risen Lord—with his wounds—and receiving the Holy Spirit from him. But Thomas was not present when Jesus came to them, and, on hearing their story, responds: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Up to that point, there was no reason to distinguish Thomas from the other apostles. They had all been followers of Jesus, and all were somewhat less than faithful during their leader’s time of tribulation, keeping their distance while he was tried, tortured, and executed. They all shared affection for Jesus and guilt for failing him. They certainly had no cause to imagine that Jesus preferred them over Thomas, and no reasonable motive for lying to Thomas about having seen the risen Lord.
Nevertheless, Thomas cannot be convinced. He postures as the empiricist, the one who wants to see and touch before he will believe. But what does his posturing accomplish? Even Thomas must have thought it unlikely that these ten joyful witnesses would renounce their mutually reinforcing testimony.
Instead, I suspect, Thomas deliberately distanced himself from the other apostles in order to ease his own guilt. Like them, he probably felt remorse for having forsaken Jesus. But he did not yet enjoy the reassurance of having seeing the risen Lord, and so perhaps seized the opportunity to make himself feel better by distinguishing himself from others. After hearing their outlandish resurrection story, Thomas could have told himself something like this: “I may have made mistakes, but at least I am not like these credulous fools. I am a man of superior reason: I made the necessary decision to escape the death sentence that befell Jesus, and now I will not excuse myself by pretending Jesus is alive and all is forgiven. Unlike my brothers, I will stoically suffer the guilt and misery that comes from having abandoned him.”
Then Jesus appears to them again, this time seemingly just for the doubting apostle’s sake: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? ” he asks Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
The Posturing of Abortion Advocates
Prolifers can sympathize with the ten. At our best, we do not claim that our advocacy for legal protection of the unborn is the result of superior personal virtue, but simply a basic obligation of justice. Abortion advocates, who imagine themselves defenders of mothers in difficult circumstances, could choose to disagree with us yet still appreciate the rationality of our cause. But I have not often encountered such appreciation.
Instead, in my experience, abortion advocates seem determined to discredit the pro-life movement, offering unreasonable and often improbable justification for their actions. We are said to be Christian fanatics bent on theocracy, yet also shallow hypocrites who allegedly care nothing for children after they’re born. We are said to be ambitious sexists seeking to build a Handmaid’s Tale civilization, yet at the same time cynical manipulators of a wedge issue, with no plans to advance the pro-life cause except as a tool for promoting one political party over another. Never mind the contradictions: The point is that prolifers are the bad guys.
For whom do these abortion advocates posture? Surely, they don’t expect that such oxymoronic slurs will win us over to their side. Maybe some bystanders are temporarily frightened off from identifying with us, but in the long run, such hyperbole likely drives more people toward us than away.
Like Thomas, they posture mainly for themselves. They know the tragedy of abortion and feel guilty for supporting it. They need to persuade themselves that they suffer nobly for a higher cause: “At least we are not theocrats or hypocrites or sexists or demagogues—we defend a woman’s right to choose.”
John the Evangelist fails to record whether the ten attempted to argue with Thomas. In doing so, perhaps John afforded them more dignity and grace than they might have deserved. The matter is not resolved until a week later, when the Lord himself intervenes, and vindicates the ten’s witness to his new life.
Like the ten, prolifers need not respond to the efforts of others to discredit us. Yes, we should have our arguments organized and available, especially for third parties sincerely trying to understand our position. But we should not expect abortion advocates to surrender their posturing. The Lord will correct them in his own time, as he did Thomas. Instead, let us persevere kindly and patiently in our witness to the lives of the unborn.