A popular story from the gospel narratives is that of “Doubting Thomas” (not Tumnus) found in John 20:24-29. It comes shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and first appearance to the disciples as a group. Thomas missed this meeting (for whatever reason;i don’t think it’s safe to speculate on why he wasn’t there) and so heard about it from the other disciples. He refused to believe, citing that only seeing Jesus with his own eyes and sticking his fingers in his Master’s nail-scarred wrists and spear-bludgeoned side would make him believe.
Typically there are two ways that most pastor’s have interpreted this. 1) Thomas is a horrible Christian example because he doubted Christ’s resurrection and the disciple’s testimonies. or 2) he’s some sort of hero because he wasn’t gullible but needed proof before he made a step of faith (this view would obviously be popular in our cynical generation that demands 100% proof for everything). Which interpretation is best? In my professional A.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies opinion, I’d say it’s neither. Let’s breakdown the text a little.
The first interpretation falls through when Jesus appears again with Thomas present. The first words out of His mouth aren’t “Thomas, you low down sinner! Why didn’t you believe?” No, His first words are, “Peace be with you!” (v. 26) I think that’s significant. He’s not necessarily mad at Thomas, He doesn’t give the doubting disciple a good head-banging, He instead pronounces peace to all those present…including Thomas.
Then He addresses Thomas personally and invites the apostle to reach into His side or into the nail prints (gross!). He doesn’t put Thomas off. He wants to reassure his faith and so gives him the honorable invite to have his doubts and suspicions done away with for good. For Thomas’ part, simply seeing Jesus was enough and he declares Him to be Lord and God (v. 28). So interpretation #1 falls through.
Now it may seem like take 2 is the obvious choice. But v. 29 throws that out the window as Jesus gently rebukes Thomas for his doubts. Thomas had to see to believe, but the happier people are those who can’t see Jesus and still believe. Faith triumphs over doubt any day of the week and Jesus extends this challenge that Thomas shouldn’t need to see with his eyes to have faith but should rather “walk by faith and not by sight.”
So what’s the middle ground? How do I define my interpretation? I think from this passage we see that it’s not evil for a Christian to doubt. There will be times of trouble in believing, no doubt about that! But how do we handle that? If someone’s struggling with doubts, what do we tell them? If I’m having doubts, what do I tell myself?
I think, first off all, we need to realize that Jesus is willing to work with us. He didn’t cast out Thomas because the guy had a black moment. He gave him the opportunity to make up for it, to work through the questions filling his mind. But I also think, secondly, that we should not revel in our doubts. Rob Bell seems to enjoy doing this. Today’s generation enjoys raising all the questions we can until we have no clue what we were originally questioning. This is unhealthy Christianity. Why seek out doubts when they’ll undoubtedly come up on their own? Remember that it is more joyous to “walk by faith and not by sight.”
I also think we need to keep the gospel in view. The closing verses of chapter 20 give John’s reason for writing the gospel. So that we might believe. When we struggle with doubts, let’s keep the gospel front and center. It was written for our faith’s sake, so let’s indulge ourselves. That said, it’s okay to doubt but don’t float among the grey clouds for long. Find a safe landing in faith in Christ.
8Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.–1 Peter 1:8-9