“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 [that it is the Lord],” John 20:25b (NIV).
When I was much younger in my walk with the Lord, I had this sense that if I doubted anything about the Bible or about Jesus or about the existence of God, that my faith was somehow weak. Any doubt had to be removed in order to be a true Christian. This wasn’t something that was taught in my Sunday school classes or even in my small Baptist church. It was something I felt in the air of Christian culture.
At the time, I thought it was truth: I had to believe God, no matter what. If I doubted, I wasn’t really a Christian. But now, having gone through quite a few seasons of doubts, I realize that this fear of disbelieving wasn’t the good, clean air Christians are supposed to be breathing. It was second-hand smoke from the believers who had their own theological anxieties.
To be fair, doubts aren’t comfortable. When I doubted whether or not God was even real, I was not in an emotionally comfortable state. But what I find here near the end of John’s Gospel is interesting; Thomas isn’t rebuked for his non-belief, but rather provided with incontrovertible evidence of the risen Jesus. His statement to his fellow disciples wasn’t an admission some deep-seeded doubts he had all along; it was a reflection of his natural tendency to be more thoughtful toward the things he was told. Thomas was honest: He simply could not accept his peers’ testimony, not because he believed them to be lying, but because he needed a little more reasonable support.
In my ten years of being a Christian, I find that I have grown much more from questions rather than answers. “Why was my father never there?” “Why is there unspeakable human suffering when God could easily fix things in a moment’s notice?” “Why am I here?” are all the sorts of questions that have led me deeper into the heart, mind, and Spirit of God. Instead of being told the answers, I was shown them.
I was shown that my father was never there for me not because of something I had done, but because of a fear that was upon his heart. I was shown that while I’m part of the problem to human suffering, I can be part of the solution by acting like God to my neighbors near and far. And I was shown that I am here not because of some “accident” 25 years ago, but because of something God wants to bring about – a story God is writing.
Thomas was told that Jesus had risen. He didn’t believe it until Jesus had shown it to him.
If doubts are a sort of mental or emotional suffering, then I find no other appropriate text than Romans 5:3; “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,” (ESV). I don’t know if God intended doubts to come about or if they were simply a consequence to our sins. But I know that God produces a deeper faith through every doubt we have if we take the courage to honestly seek the answer.
Doubts, uncertainties, questions, trials, etc., will happen. I have no doubt about that. But rather than running from them by denying their validity, perhaps we should brace ourselves for the journey God will bring us through. As Danny O’Neil says in his message “Why Trials?,” it’s what we decide to do at the peak of our trial that determines the strength of our faith in God (paraphrased).
Yes, Jesus tells Thomas that “those who have not seen and yet have believed” are blessed, but my point here is that we shouldn’t train ourselves to avoid doubts like the plague. We should train ourselves to move forward in faith through the doubts that we encounter. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll only add to our faith’s strength.
It’s okay to be a little like Thomas (also because it’s my middle name and it’s cool…).
“[Jesus] told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim,” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity