If I had to identify a personal hero in the Bible – a character that inspires me in times of trouble, whose story I identify with my own – I think the person who would fit the bill the best would be “doubting” Thomas. Sure, he didn’t have the hews or hair of Samson, the wisdom or hoes of Solomon, or the tall walls and big horn of Captain Jericho, but he had a particular quality that worked well for him, a quality that I possess in spades – skepticism.
I understand that Thomas has gotten a fair amount of shit over the years for his moment of doubt. I didn’t grow up Christian, but I’ve been called a “doubting Thomas” enough times in my life to catch on that I wasn’t being paid a compliment. In my experience, a “doubting Thomas” was someone who doubted inappropriately – like, at the wrong time, or by doubting something that should be beyond doubt. Since you’re reading a faith blog, I’m sure you’re familiar with the “why” of this judgment – but in case you’re not, I’ll let the Bible tell you. I think it’s a pretty neat story, but don’t take my word for it.
24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[c] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,”he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:24-29 NLT)
Some thoughts on this passage from John. . .
1) Thomas didn’t doubt Jesus, so much as he doubted the other eleven who had seen Jesus. He was assuming that his coworkers were raving lunatics, and for a good reason. He couldn’t really doubt Jesus unless he’d touched his wounds and then continued to call “bullshit.” And he didn’t.
2) I’ve heard people say that Jesus was chiding Thomas when he said, “You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who believe without seeing.” That’s probably why “doubting Thomas” is an insult. But was he really putting Thomas down? Maybe he was just pointing out a fact. Speaking as a skeptic, I do think that people who can believe without seeing are blessed. It’s a lot easier to have faith when you aren’t a skeptic. I know that if Jesus said those words to me today, my response would be to nod in agreement and say, “I know, right?”
3) Jesus didn’t waste any time in helping out Thomas. He materialized in a room with a locked door, said “What’s up?” to everyone there, and then said, “Hey Thomas. I heard what you said. It’s totally cool. Come check out my wounds. There’s no reason not to believe I’m alive.”
Point three is my favorite, because it parallels my own experience as a skeptic who came to God for no apparent reason. In fact, I believe that God loves a skeptic. God loves doubt – it’s incredible fertile soil for miracles. When a person who doubts God experiences a miracle that defies logic in some way – when they touch the wounds of Christ – the faith that follows is incredibly vigorous. I think that skeptics always assume that “miracles” happen to people who are expecting miracles to happen. A believer gets a cold; the believer prays for healing; the believer gets better – hallelujah! That testimony means little to nothing to a skeptic. But when someone who doubts has an experience that kills that doubt, that person has a story, now. That person has something compelling to say, and they have a weapon against the doubts that may rise in the future.
One of the things I like best about my pastor, Ryan Bauers, is that he’s a bit of a skeptic himself. That makes me take his “miracle stories” more seriously, because I know that he doesn’t just blindly assume that God is behind anything that seems remotely mysterious. He’s currently doing a series at Hillside Church called Exploring the Supernatural, and last Sunday’s message was about God doing miracles in our world today. In giving the message, Ryan told a couple of anecdotal stories about miracles that he had experienced, or had seen others experience.
It’s a great series, by the way, and if you have time I think you’d really like it and should totally check it out. My favorite story in that sermon is about a man who attends our church, who had been dealing with Hepatitis C. After joining a small group with others in our church, he received prayer about his illness. When he went to his next doctor’s appointment, his blood work showed results so good that the doctor asked him to come in and re-test, because he assumed that the results actually belonged to someone else. The Hep C was gone.
Cool story, huh? Here’s my favorite part – when Ryan heard about this story from the guy at our church, he didn’t just shout “Praise Jesus!” and give a round of high-fives to everyone assembled. Instead, he asked the guy, “Could I see your test results, from before and after the prayer?” When presented with something that could have been miraculous, he asked for evidence. In the face of the seemingly-impossible (or at least the very highly improbable) he asked to “touch the wounds.”
And you know what? He was given the evidence, and it only made the miracle more believable. It made the story better. That’s why God loves to give us evidence. God isn’t afraid of doubt. God isn’t threatened by it. God sees doubt as an opportunity to blow our minds. Jesus wasn’t mad at Thomas for being skeptical. In fact, he was so willing to help Thomas overcome his doubt that it was the first thing he did when he appeared in that room, after saying hello. In the face of Thomas’ doubt, Jesus was stoked.
I’m not afraid of doubt – I’ve been there, done that. I’ve felt doubt before, and I’ll feel doubt again. But knowing that, I still have faith that God will come to me in that place and use my skepticism; he’ll make it work for him. He’s just that cool. So. Here’s my question to you, faithful readers. How have you dealt with doubt in the past? Have you ever seen God turn your doubt into something awesome? Do you think, like I do, that “doubting” Thomas gets a bad rap?