It may be good to doubt what you think you know about Doubting Thomas. In fact it may also be good to doubt what you think you know about doubt, itself.
Thomas has been the subject of thousands of sermons and illustrations over the years. The focus of those stories has been less than flattering. In fact – what I consider – a misinterpretation of the scene as a whole has led many sincere followers of Christ down the slippery slope of shame and discouragement. When they could be discovering important lessons in their own school of faith, they point to Thomas and the words that Jesus spoke to him. They often feel hopeless.
May I suggest a few thoughts for your consideration:
- Jesus wasn’t shaming Thomas. The only way you can get that out of the exchange in John 20 is to read it into Jesus’ words. I’d like to suggest that Jesus was simply making a statement of fact. Instead of shame, I would claim that he’s encouraging Thomas and those listening to a higher level of faith experience. Emotions that preachers include in their interpretations are not necessarily inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus knew the quality of Thomas’ character. Just a short time earlier, Thomas was with Jesus and the other disciples. It was at the occasion of Lazarus’ death. The times were extremely dangerous, politically and religiously. When Jesus said he was going to go to Lazarus, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11) That’s extreme dedication.
- Jesus would have known Thomas’ disappointment and discouragement. I would have been. You would have been. The dashed hopes would have filled us with deep sorrow and perplexity. It’s been suggested that Thomas was simply an honorable critical thinker. That would be another way of saying that Thomas was someone who relied on their own powers of reason. I “doubt” that. It was more sorrow and perplexity than a show of academic prowess.
- Jesus wasn’t comparing Thomas with the other disciples. “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Jesus reference to those who have not seen but believed were not the other disciples standing there with him. Read back a few verses. Jesus had already been with them, earlier. They had already seen (and possibly touched) Jesus.
- Doubt and lack of faith are not the same thing. It’s been preached that way for so long that people automatically assume that to be true. But, in the New Testament, the Greek words for doubt are entirely different than Jesus used with Thomas. In fact, the Apostle Paul indicated in 2 Corinthians 4:8 that he was often in perplexities. The word for perplexity that Paul used is also translated as doubt in other places. It’s a word that means, “not knowing what to do or think.”
That’s where Thomas found himself. Like Paul at times, He was bewildered. He was in the state of questioning and wondering “what’s up?”
- He said, “My Lord and My God.” Yes, his senses helped him, but when He recognized Jesus, you might say, “he came to his senses.” He revealed where his heart had been all along. In fact, Thomas became the disciple who established the church of India.
If I might suggest an alternate understanding to what has become religious conventional thinking, Jesus was being very kind and compassionate to Thomas. He was using this occasion to also teach he and the others. He was also warning him, “Don’t let your sorrow take you to places where you don’t come back.”
In the times we live, faith is our most valuable resource. We all need to be pressing toward the mark of the highest kind of faith, that which keeps acting on God’s word, even when there’s no natural, touchable, see-able evidence to warrant it. But Jesus knows the cry of your heart. He’s not threatened by honest perplexity. Question with an open heart. But, keep trusting from your own experience with Him.
The journey of faith is a walk of grit and glory. Miracles and heartbreak. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll win, because In Christ you’re one with the Winner.
Thomas was much more than a doubter. That’s become an unfortunate mark of shame. You, too…I’ll just betcha…are much more than a doubter, God’s man/woman of faith and power.