Are you struggling in your faith with doubt in some area? Difficult to believe what God says is true? Hard to understand? Confused? Frustrated? Is God angry when we doubt Him?
Poor Doubting Thomas
Surely, you have heard of the poor fellow dubbed “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:24-29). He sometimes gets a bad rap, but I admire his truth-telling. He didn’t go along with the bandwagon when it was incongruent with own personal inner struggle.
Devastated by Doubt
He was devastated by the unexpected and heartbreaking loss of one he loved very much. More than just a friend and mentor, Thomas had believed Jesus was his promised Messiah, the fulfillment of all the inspiring promises God had made over the centuries.
Now his “Messiah” was dead, cruelly murdered like a convicted criminal. Thomas’ hope died on the cross with Jesus.
How could this possibly line up with all the glorious promises he had believed? Had he been duped? Tricked? Was God’s word not true after all?
Perhaps he had misunderstood. If Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, then who was he? If Thomas had fallen for the wrong guy this time, how would he be able to recognize or trust the real Messiah when he finally did show up?
Was Thomas the only doubter?
Labeling him as “Doubting Thomas”, as if he were the only one with questions, overlooks the fact that most, if not all, the disciples doubted. Most of them fled on Thursday evening, abandoning Jesus in his hour of greatest trial. Apparently, only John stayed near the cross with Jesus’ mother and some other women on Friday.
On Saturday, it was the religious leaders, not the disciples, who remembered Jesus promise to come back to life. That’s why they asked Pilate to seal the stone over the tomb and assign guards to watch it in the first place. They wanted to ensure the disciples couldn’t steal it and claim a false miracle (Mt 27:62-66).
Ironically, it was his disciples who doubted to the point of despair and didn’t even remember His promise to rise from the dead much less devise a plan to steal his body and fake a resurrection (John 20:9). It was only after He appeared to them in His resurrected form that His followers remembered what He’d told them (Lk 24:8).
Yet, even after his resurrection and appearance, not all of Jesus’ followers believed it was true. Thomas wasn’t alone in his doubt.
Doubting the Resurrection
The women who visited the tomb early Sunday morning were the first to know of the resurrection. When they did as Jesus said and went back to tell the others, the men did not believe the women’s incredible story and accused them of speaking nonsense (Luke 24:11).
Peter was the only one who got up to actually check it out (Luke 24:12). The others didn’t even bother. Why should they believe a bunch of women?
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
~ Matthew 28:16-17
Then Jesus appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34, 1 Cor 15:5) and two men on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), but no one believed them either.
These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
~ Mark 16:13
Missing Out Causes Doubt
Later that evening Jesus showed Himself to all the gathered disciples except Thomas (John 20:19-24) who were hiding in fear behind locked doors. Thomas had not been with them then. Maybe he had another appointment or perhaps he was too disillusioned to continue the charade of following a dead god. We don’t know why he wasn’t present, but he missed out on seeing his risen Savior.
Thomas’ overjoyed friends rushed to share the Good News the next time they saw him. He replied unimpressed, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (Jn 20:25) The Bible doesn’t elaborate on his tone of voice but I imagine it was marked by bitterness and disappointment or at least extreme skepticism. Perhaps he didn’t want to risk suffering the death of hope a second time.
It hadn’t been so long ago that Thomas had been the first to voice his loyalty to Jesus and faith strong enough to bet his life on. When Jesus decided to return to Bethany in Judea after religious leadership in Jerusalem had tried to stone him after the Feast of Dedication (Jn 10:31), it was Thomas who spoke up urging the others, “Let us go die with him”John 11:16
Now, Thomas is not asking for greater proof than the others received. Jesus had already presented his wounds to the disciples for inspection (John 2:20). The other disciples didn’t believe it when the women told them. They too did not believe without seeing for themselves.
Thomas doesn’t believe the women or the men. He wants to be a face-to-face witness too. However, Thomas is now singled out for not believing the testimony of resurrection since he is apparently the last to be convinced that what Jesus promised was true.
A full week went by. Nothing changed.
But then, …
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
~ John 20:26b-29
When Jesus showed up, Thomas uttered the most significant statement of faith recorded up to that point that Jesus was both Lord and God. He wanted to see for himself like everyone else did, but once he saw, he connected the dots and proclaim who Jesus really was.
Thomas is known for his doubt, but Thomas clearly wasn’t the only disciple that was tough to convince the resurrection was real. Jesus got on to all of them for refusing to believe.
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
~ Mark 16:14, NIV
We Who Believe Without Seeing
We are the blessed ones who have believed without seeing. John states his purpose for writing his Gospel in this way:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
~ John 20:30-31
John recorded these bits and pieces of Jesus’ ministry so that we will be equipped to believe. That is why John’s Gospel is an awesome starting point for anyone new to the Christian faith or new to reading the Bible. By studying John’s gospel, we who cannot put our finger on Jesus’ wounds and see His resurrected body for ourselves may still believe.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
~ 1 Peter 1:8-9,NIV
We have two great aids to our faith that Thomas didn’t. We have the Holy Spirit in us and the New Testament written out for us. Yet still, even with this, we can find ourselves plagued with doubt.
Thomas’ name literally means “twin”, yet the Bible makes no mention of who his twin is. There’s a lot of speculation about who Thomas’ brother (or sister) could have been with no real consensus.
In a way, his human doubts about Jesus make him a twin to all of us.
Jesus may not appear to us and offer to remove all our doubt by physically touching him, but He will encourage and perfect our faith if we are willing to let Him.
Jesus was under no obligation to do what Thomas asked. So why did he? Jesus had compassion on him. He didn’t condemn him for doubting, but rather encouraged him to believe. I don’t believe Thomas was a mocking doubter. I think he really wanted to believe, but just couldn’t quite get there from where he was without a divine assist.Click To Tweet
But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.
~ James 1:6, NLT
If we’re going to question God, we must commit to being content with whatever answers he does (or doesn’t) supply. We don’t question him to test him. God is perfect and doesn’t need us to quiz Him. We question him to gain wisdom for ourselves. If we try to divide our loyalties between God’s answers and the world’s answers, we doom our lives to spiritual and intellectual seasickness.