Do you have difficulty accepting some things believers claim with certainty as God’s very truth? Do you sometimes question things you were taught in church and Sunday school?
Then you might be a doubter. Well I am a doubter too—and we are in good company! In fact, one of Jesus’ own disciples was a doubter to the point that doubt is permanently associated with his memory—poor ole ‘Doubting’ Thomas. After his one incident of doubt he would never be plain Thomas again. He is forever suspect among the disciples for his refusal to believe in Jesus’ resurrection; why couldn’t he just have faith like the other disciples?
But I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Because, you see, doubt is not so terrible a thing. Would it be better if we remembered Thomas as ‘Gullible’ Thomas? ‘Just tell Thomas anything and he will believe it. Good ole ‘Gullible’ Thomas! You can even get the guys together and tell him you talked to a person who is alive after being dead for days and he will go for it. What a sucker! Good ole ‘Gullible’ Thomas.’
Let’s Take a Closer Look at Thomas
We don’t know much about Thomas from the Bible. Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention him only in their lists of the 12 Disciples. It is only in John that we learn anything about Thomas personally, and his first mention is not at all wimpy. John tells the story of Lazarus’ death near Jerusalem where Jesus had just recently escaped stoning.
Lazarus’ sisters sent Jesus a message to come right away. But Jesus waited a couple days and then told his disciples that Lazarus was dead and they were going to go see him and his sisters. This is where Thomas comes in; John 11 says:
Then Thomas…said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
This does not sound weak to me.
We know what happened next—Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, which caused quite a sensation and drew attention to Jesus. This led directly to Jesus’ arrest and ultimate crucifixion. Thomas was correct that they would all be in danger but chose to go to Jerusalem with Jesus anyway.
Later, Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:
My Father’s house has many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.
Well Thomas did not know where Jesus was going, so he spoke up. It wasn’t that he doubted Jesus—he just needed clarification. He wanted to understand better what was happening. This isn’t doubt, but neither is it passive acceptance; Thomas wanted something more to help him understand. So…
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
A very valid question.
Jesus is Killed and then Comes Back to Life
Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed. He was buried in a tomb, but when some of his followers visited his tomb after the Sabbath it was empty; Jesus wasn’t there. It is interesting that his followers did not conclude from the empty tomb that Jesus was resurrected; why would they? But then someone approached Mary and spoke to her.
John 20 says:
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)…Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
John does not say the disciples believed her—would you believe her? But later Jesus appeared to them as well and they were overjoyed. However Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared, and this is the moment he acquired his reputation as a doubter.
Now Thomas…was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “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.”
A week later Jesus appeared to his disciples again and, fortunately, Thomas was with them. Jesus said:
“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!”
We are not told that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ scars, but based on the evidence Thomas’ doubts immediately disappeared. It turns out that Thomas was not a ‘doubter’ after all anymore than the other disciples were ‘doubters’ before seeing Jesus for themselves. Thomas was simply not blindly gullible.
Doubt is Not the Opposite of Faith but of Gullibility
I feel I am very much like Thomas—I have faith but am not blindly gullible. When other believers insist that I have ‘faith’ and accept things taught us as truth from generation to generation (such as angry god, inerrancy, legalism, and punishment in hell) I question those views. I have not lost my faith—I am just not gullible.
When they demand that I agree with harmful beliefs and practices arising from those four ‘truths’ (such as penal substitution, Young Earth Creationism, homophobia, patriarchy, and dispensational end-time scenarios) I can doubt, question, and disagree because I need not ‘believe’ just because they tell me to have faith.
Instead, I stand with Thomas; I am happy to adopt him as my patron saint. And you can label me ‘Doubting Tim’ if you want to. That is much more satisfying than ‘Gullible Tim’.
Does Doubting Thomas appeal to you as well?
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