While he gets the nickname “Doubting Thomas,” Thomas the Disciple was not the only doubter in scripture. In the Old Testament entire books, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Habakkuk, deal with doubt. Doubt is a recurring theme among the Psalms.
Three doubters in the Gospels help to tell the story of Christ.
The father of the son with a demon doubted.
His son was suffering having been possessed since childhood. The father felt helpless. The man brought his son to the disciples, but they couldn’t help him so they brought the boy to Jesus.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“’If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:21-24 (NIV)
The man had heard about Jesus and his miracles. He had hope, yet he still had doubt. Doctors hadn’t helped his son, the disciples couldn’t cure him. It was only natural to question whether Jesus was different.
His faith was riddled with doubt. Yet Jesus healed the boy.
John the Baptist was thrown in jail by Herod because John dared to rebuke him. Having believed and witnessed the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, John still had doubts when he was thrown into prison. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was this happening? He sent his messengers to Jesus to ask:
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3 (NIV)
Jesus responded to John:
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Matthew 11:4-6 (NIV)
Jesus could have performed a miracle and freed John the Baptist, and perhaps that’s what the disciples and John expected. But John was beheaded not long after that. He died knowing that Jesus was the Messiah and that his death was not in vain.
As a disciple, Thomas had enormous courage. We first take real notice of him when Lazarus dies in Bethany. The disciples warn Jesus about going close to Jerusalem, but Thomas says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) Thomas seemed to have an understanding of what was about to happen.
Thomas was not one to accept easy answers. We see him again at the Last Supper. Judas has left to betray Jesus.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and 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.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
John 14:1-5 (NIV)
Again, Thomas shows that he was beginning to understand what happened.
Thomas was fully devoted to Jesus. In the final week, he remained Jesus and we see a Thomas who we would believe would lay down his own life. He has his doubts, but he’s honest about them.
We don’t know why Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the Sunday evening of the resurrection. Perhaps he needed to be alone with his grief. He had believed in the Messiah and was willing to give all. Now, his heart was broken. It is easy to think of Thomas as a skeptic, but he was more a believer who had been wounded.
It is eight days later when Jesus appears to the disciples again.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, 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 his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, 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 20:26-29 (NIV)
Jesus already knew of Thomas’ doubts, but he said gently “here, see for yourself.”
While we don’t talk about it much, we all have doubts. Every Sunday we sit among other believers, quietly harboring our own doubts and mistakenly believing we’re the only ones.
It’s important to remember that doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Doubt may mean that we’re uncertain. Unbelief means that we are willfully refusing to believe.
We are not condemned by God when we doubt. There is forgiveness and reassurance for our doubt. Both David and Job doubted God and centuries later we have their words to help in understanding our own doubt.
Struggling through doubt will actually help our faith to grow stronger. If we’re never challenged, we never grow.
Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief,
Kneeling there in deep contrition;
Help my unbelief.
~ Fanny Crosby