Have you ever had questions about faith and eternal matters? Have you ever been treated in a way that didn’t honor your questions? “You just go out and play. You’ll understand when you’re older.” “You think too much. You don’t have to understand. Just believe.” What should we make of this? And what if we could know how God deals with us in our doubts? The account of Thomas’ initial response to Jesus’ resurrection is helpful here.
A quick recap of the events that first Easter Sunday. The tomb was empty. The body was missing. Mary Magdalene then meets the risen Jesus. She tells the disciples. They don’t know what to make of it. Jesus then comes to them pronouncing “peace” and shows them the wounds that have brought that peace. A week later, He shows Himself to Thomas. Thomas then responds with the great profession of faith – “My Lord and my God!”
But that’s not the first thing we hear from Thomas. Prior to that great profession, Thomas had wrestled with great doubt. But what is doubt? It’s not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Doubt is the halfway house between the two – a divided heart, torn between what we want to believe and what we see. Now what we see with Thomas is a surprising thing. God loves even the doubter. And we need to take that to heart in facing our own doubts and the doubts of others.
Consider what Thomas said, these words from a divided heart. We read in John 20:24-25 (ESV), “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” This is a refusal to believe that Jesus is alive, a refusal that will yield on only one condition – clear physical proof.
Why would Thomas have said this? It’s hard for us to know. J. I. Packer in his book, Never Beyond Hope, notes four possibilities – temperament, stress, pride, and resentment – any of which could have been true of Thomas and at the root of his doubt. Any of which any of us could fall prey to as well. Which has two implications. First, in how we come alongside others in their struggles with doubt. We need to consider the possibility of such factors at work and have mercy on each other. The second thing has to do with our own questions. Could temperament, stress, pride, or resentment be at the root of our struggle? And could that be fueling our doubts? Considering Thomas’ experience, it’s worth considering.
All that said, how then does Jesus respond? What do we learn here? Appearing again to the disciples, we read in John 20:27 these words of Jesus (ESV), “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Jesus doesn’t dismiss Thomas as being too much trouble. He pursues him. Jesus took Thomas’ doubt as an invitation to approach him, come alongside, and walk him through this struggle. But to challenge him as well. The depth of Jesus’ love drove Him both to pursue and to challenge. And that should be of great encouragement to us in our own times of doubt.
Let me leave you with this. I realize this is spring but let me use a football analogy for a moment. Just because a particular play doesn’t gain big yards doesn’t mean you’ve lost. Even a play for a loss may not be so bad. Each play, especially early in the game, is a fact-finding mission. You learn about the tendencies and responses of the other team. A failed play can tell you a lot. Which might even lead to a score.
It’s something like that with doubt. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lost. It may well mean you are growing. To doubt is not to say your faith is dead. Yes, it may be a warning sign. But it may be a hopeful sign – not of faith on its last legs but alive, kicking, on the verge of being stronger than before. Having faith does not eliminate the possibility of having doubt. In fact, every believer in Jesus is sure to have such struggles. But strength then comes as we come out on the other side. So question your questions. Examine the evidence. Consider the significance. And believe.