Since moving to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton area, I've noticed something I thought was unique: There are an incredible number of twins in the area.
When I first started as a youth director at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church on Hilton Head, our youth ministry had three groups of twins participating. I even met a family who had adopted twins from Russia. I remember thinking, after meeting quite a few more older sets of twins, that there must be something in the water that natives hadn't told us about. After some quick Internet research, I became less surprised.
Since the 1980s, twins have become more common and make up about 1 in every 30 births in our country. As is expected, they can be extremely connected to one another, sometimes creating verbal cues and language they alone understand. Despite this, they tend to be very competitive and can push each other pretty hard. And, later in life, it can be hard for the two to separate into adult lives apart.
I mention this because Thomas, the "doubter" of Jesus' resurrection, has the Greek name, Didymus, which is Greek for "twin." Twice I've read through the story of Thomas, who said he would not believe Jesus had returned until he saw the Lord's wounds in person. Jesus appears, and Thomas awakens in faith. In the process, this twin has had a lot of bad publicity, but I think he's gotten a bad deal.
If Thomas was a twin, the Scriptures do not mention the other. It is possible he had lost his twin earlier in his life. In a literary sense, many interpreters speculate that we (as in the readers as individuals) may be the "twin" of Thomas, facing our own doubts as we hear and weigh the gospel. A Gnostic Gospel (written long after the gospels) attributes the twin to be Jesus himself. I read one article that humorously remarked how surprised Mary and Jesus himself would have been to hear that. The first explanation resonates with me, and this has colored my view of Thomas in a totally different hue.
If Didymus was a twin who was separated from someone with whom he'd been so close, his connection to Jesus would have been different from that of the other disciples. Churches sometimes talk today about having a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. Who would understand this more than a twin? Who would have a natural understanding of having a deep and intimate friendship and bond with someone they love and respect? And who would have had the hardest time dealing with the death of their Lord and the relationship with the master?
Previously, Thomas was stout in faith and courage. In John chapter 11, he told the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him," as Jesus deals with the death of Lazarus. He then seems to experience some separation anxiety in John chapter 14, "Thomas said to [Jesus], 'Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?'" when Jesus begins mentioning his own demise in the progression toward Jerusalem and the cross. I've read that this also explains why Thomas may not have been with the other disciples when they saw Jesus the first time. Was he in intense grief, unable to bear company or comfort, dealing with the death of his hopes and dreams that had previously been invested in Jesus?
Then Christ appears to him, and he is once again awakened. The connection is unbroken, and the source of life is returned to a broken and hurting spirit. He believes, and from that moment Thomas's life has a clear direction. He is recorded to have ministered as far as present-day Iran and he died preaching and teaching the good news of his lord, Jesus Christ.
If I were to "go" like Thomas did, and believe with the passion of a committed twin, what could we accomplish? Who would receive the hope that emanates from the light of belief in our hearts? We could turn the love we have received into a tangible expression of goodness for our world. Let's tell the stories of how moving from brokenness and doubt toward the moment belief transforms everything.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.