I was in my early teens when I voiced some doubts about my faith. Although I had grown up in the faith and had been to church almost every Sunday of my life, I entered a season of skepticism.
I wanted to know how everything fit together. I wanted answers to some important questions, such as: Can I really trust the scriptures? Is there evidence for the resurrection? What if faith is just make-believe?
I tried to voice these questions to some of the leaders in my church. Their response was quick and decisive. “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas,” they replied.
Doubting Thomas is the disciple who initially denied the resurrection. Instead of believing the eyewitness testimony of his friends, Thomas responds with skepticism and doubt (John 20:25). Since this response, Thomas gets a bad rap.
Doubt defines Thomas’ legacy, despite the other places where he shows up in the gospels. In the end, we dismiss Thomas as nothing more than a faithless disciple, one whom we certainly do not want to emulate.
But is this true? Was Thomas really the resurrection denier that we make him out to be?
The story of Thomas’ doubt is told not as a warning against doubt and questioning but as an example of how we might respond faithfully to something we don’t understand.
Yes, Thomas has initial doubts regarding the resurrection, yet the way he moves through these doubts is instructive for us.
Thomas is not a disciple to dismiss. Instead, when we look at the story of Thomas, we see three reasons to follow in his footsteps.
1. Thomas Is Honest about His Faith Struggle
Before we give Thomas a hard time for his response, we must remember two important factors. Firstly, Christ’s resurrection caught everyone by surprise. While we Christians hold the resurrection as central to our faith, this was not something people anticipated.
Everyone assumed that the death of Jesus was the end of his ministry. Because of this, it is completely understandable to respond to the news of the resurrection with questioning and uncertainty.
Secondly, Thomas is not the only person who questions the resurrection! Each of the disciples initially responded to the empty tomb with disbelief. Even Mary believes that Christ’s body was stolen from the grave (John 20:2).
It wasn’t until she meets the Risen Lord that she accepts the truth of Christ’s raising. What is more, the other disciples react the same way (Mark:16:11). None of the disciples respond to the empty tomb by believing that Jesus was raised from the dead.
The thing that makes Thomas different than the other disciples, however, is that he is honest about his doubts. Ultimately, Thomas doesn’t take someone’s testimony at face value. Rather, he voices his difficulty in accepting the resurrection claim.
Thomas says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Importantly, this doubt is not for doubt’s sake. Thomas merely wants to witness the risen Lord as intimately and as personally as the others had.
There are moments in our lives where we are like Thomas. Despite all our efforts, our faith doesn’t always make sense. This is because God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are infinitely higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8).
Even the most learned in Scripture and theology will enter times of questioning or doubt. This is a natural part of the life of faith; It is rooted in our own humanity.
The good news is that God never asks us to shy away from that which concerns or troubles us. God has granted us minds to think, and we are given the capacity to ponder and query. Engaging with our questions or doubts is a good thing.
In fact, this is precisely what we see in Scripture. God invites us to wrestle with our faith. Jacob, Elijah, Job, and Thomas all represent a faithfulness to God expressed through questioning and wrestling.
Being a person of faith, therefore, is not about denying our questions or doubts, but about being honest about them. This is what Thomas does, and what we are invited to do as well. When we voice our doubts, we open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing the presence of the Lord.
2. Thomas Remains with the Community of Faith
Many people wrongly believe that having doubts necessarily means one can no longer remain a part of the church.
Either the community itself rejects them for asking hard questions, like the church leaders mentioned above, or the individual believes they must leave the church until they have resolved their doubts.
Yet this is not what we see with Thomas. The disciples never reject Thomas for his questioning, nor does Thomas remove himself from their company.
John records, “A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them” (John 20:26).
We often read this as a mere description leading into Thomas’ encounter with Jesus, but there is an important truth here.
Despite his questions and with all his doubts rattling within him, Thomas did not let his questions or doubts distance him from the disciples.
Thomas remains with the disciples. For a whole week, Thomas journeyed with the disciples. He prayed with them, sang with them, and he listened as they talked about their experience with Jesus.
Even though he couldn’t understand the reality of the resurrection, Thomas continued to be on a journey with the community.
It is within the community of faith that Thomas meets the risen Lord. Would he have met Jesus if he hadn’t journeyed with the disciples?
The fact is, Thomas is a wonderful example of how someone can remain with the church even though they may have questions or doubts about their faith.
Doubts are not to be shunned, and doubters are not to be excommunicated. Thomas shows us that it is within the community that faith becomes alive and doubts become resolved.
3. Thomas Commits His Life to Jesus
While we often give Thomas the moniker of “doubting Thomas,” this doubt is not where Thomas ends his faith journey. The last thing we read about Thomas is his confession of faith.
Following his continued participation in the community of faith, Thomas meets the risen Lord, who provides the very experience Thomas longed for.
In response, Thomas offers one of the most succinct statements of faith written in Scripture: “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28). Thomas commits his life to Jesus.
Thomas’ true legacy is not his doubts but his commitment to Jesus. Thomas lived his remaining years as a witness to the gospel.
Tradition states that Thomas took the gospel message to Syria and founded the Marthoma Church.
In the end, Thomas was never satisfied with his questions and doubts. Thomas became a powerful witness to the truth of the resurrection and the Lordship of Jesus.
We can be honest about our questions and doubts, and we should also be honest about our longing for Jesus. The two are not mutually exclusive.
The fact is Jesus longs for a relationship with us and wishes us to experience new life in his presence.
While we may have to sit with our questions or doubts for a season, just as Thomas waited one week for Jesus to come, Jesus will eventually reveal his presence in our lives.
When this occurs, we should act like Thomas, who was brave enough to abandon his doubts and place his life in Jesus’ hands.
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The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.