Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading the Gospel of John in my morning devotionals. This book speaks very powerfully to many areas of personal interest. I have a deep interest in philosophy and three books—Romans, John and Hebrews—more than any others in the New Testament are filled with philosophical riches. I suppose this is why these three are my favorites. I recently reread the story of doubting Thomas. Thomas is like so many of us—me in particular. I am a skeptic at heart. I love to read skeptical arguments and debates. This is because I firmly believe that one of the best allies of faith, especially the Christian faith, is logical, rational doubt.
God planted within us a nature to question and doubt. It is part of the defense system that God gave us for self-preservation. Scripture even commands us to doubt and question those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 NIV, “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has been presumptuous.”
I John 4:1 NIV, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Doubting is not a sin; seeking the truth is not to be feared. Thomas was not rebuked by Jesus for doubting. Many have taken one part of Jesus’ statement as a command to others not to doubt as Thomas did, but this is not what was meant.
John 20:26-27 NIV, “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’” (Emphasis mine).
Many people try to interpret this last command as a command against ever doubting again. It is as if Jesus were saying “Now Thomas, don’t ever doubt again.” However, this is not what he is saying and not what is happening. He actually says, “do not become faithless but faithful” (The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament). He is not commanding Thomas to come from a position of unbelieving doubt into a blind-faith type of belief. It is hard to see the “become” in English because the translations do not point out that he is using the word for being born or generated. Jesus is saying, “From this point forward you can become a believer or an unbeliever.” This is important.
None of the other apostles simply commanded Thomas to stop doubting and believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus responded to his admitted unbelief and gave him evidence of the resurrection. Now, in response to that evidence Thomas was being encouraged to become a believer (based on the evidence) rather than becoming an unbeliever (in spite of the evidence). Doubt is not the enemy of belief and faith, but one of our greatest allies. However, doubt in the face of evidence is silliness, not wisdom.
Jesus commanded Timothy to take the evidence he had been given and to make a wise choice to believe the evidence. We do not offend Jesus when we doubt. We do not offend God by asking the questions, “Did that really happen?” or “Why should I believe this?” We are doing exactly what lovers of the truth should do; what lovers of the God of truth should do. Doubters among the faithful are not a scourge but a blessing. Because Thomas doubted we have the record of this interaction. We know that some of the apostles were not willing to believe unless they saw evidence. Actually, none of the apostles believed until they saw evidence. They each and every one had to see Jesus in order to believe. Thomas just happened to be one who was not present when the others saw Jesus. His declaration that he would not believe unless he touched the wounds, was his questioning of how they responded to the evidence they saw. He was questioning their handling of the evidence and pointing out the procedure that would need to be followed for him to believe.
When you doubt, you give God the opportunity to answer your doubts. If you are going to simply believe anything fed to you, there is no need for God to give you evidence or speak to you and there is also no reason why anyone else should believe what you say about your faith—or anything else. If you have not shown the wisdom to question even the most basic of your beliefs and claims, then I have no need to hear them. If you have doubted, questioned and wrestled with faith and belief then I want to hear what evidence the Lord used to convince you, what line of reasoning, experiences or thoughts led you to believe the way you have. Then we have something to talk about.