The Role of Doubt
Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side I will not believe. John 20:25

One of my pet peeves is the practice that exists in our society of putting labels on fellow human beings. Words like liberal, conservative, evolutionist, creationists, fanatic, intellectual, pseudointellectual and the like, are stuck on people-usually as a means of denigrating what they say or a position that they take. The label "doubting Thomas" has been applied to the biblical character who is quoted at the start of this article. Not only is this label of Thomas inaccurate and unfair, but it also fails to understand the real issue involved in doubt and how doubt can help us.

Identifying Thomas as the doubter totally fails to understand his real nature. It was Thomas (John 11:16) who says, "Let us go die with Him"when the life of Jesus appears to be in danger. At one time in his life Thomas is the leader-the one full of commitment who is willing to die for his convictions about Jesus. One has to wonder why it was not Peter who was labeled as "the doubter" due to his triple denial of Christ. What we can learn from Thomas is how doubt helps us and what we can do with our doubt to improve ourselves and make our lives more useful and productive.

Doubt has to be confronted. When the other disciples came to Thomas with the preposterous claim that they had seen Jesus, what do you think his reaction should have been? If someone came to you and said "You should have been with me at church last Sunday, Jesus was there in the flesh!!" What would your reaction be? Many false Christs had risen in the world even in that day. There was good reason to question the claims. As a matter of fact, the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection were the women in Luke 24, and no one even among the apostles believed them.

The kind of doubt that Thomas had was a healthy skepticism. He did not back off, soft soap, or withdraw from the situation, he openly and honestly expressed his doubts and concerns. Most people in today's world do not explore their doubts. When we have doubts about God, Christ, the Church or even some doctrinal issue we tend to bury our concerns. The load of unaddressed doubt can create physical illness and it can kill us spiritually. Thomas shared his doubt with his fellow disciples and did not withdraw.

In today's world, people who have doubt usually leave. Whatever the cause is or what the group stands for tends to get lost in social concerns and ego. The Bible says to share one with another and a failure to do that cripples our daily life, but also can be fatal to relationships and mental health. Keeping quiet and walking away is the easy way out for the moment, but it leads to stress, ignorance, isolation, and a failure to ever grow and mature. Thomas could have said "well, that's that" and walked away, but the Bible says "And Thomas was with them" (John 20:26). He continued to study, grow, and learn and did not discard the lesson and learning of the past.

Doubt must deal with evidence in positive and complete ways. Thomas continues his search for evidence in a positive way. He maintains his relationships with his fellow disciples and is willing to respond to the evidence when it is presented to him. I have often wondered how far Thomas went with the evidence given him. Did he actually put his finger into the nail prints and thrust his hand into the side of Jesus? Or was the fact that his search for evidence had been responded to enough to motivate him to say "My Lord and my God!"

It is also significant that Thomas did not minimize what he had to understand. "My Lord and my God" is not just an acceptance of evidence, it is a realization that the evidence he was looking at was going to change his life. In our day, there is a "so what" attitude which reflects the notion that it really does not matter whether the evidence points to a truth or not. The reaction of Thomas to the evidence given to him is positive and implies action. The Bible does not tell us what happened to Thomas, but secular history says he went to India and died there teaching that area of the world about Jesus. When someone says "so what" in today's world, they are indicating that for one reason or another they do not have their doubts resolved enough to turn their life over to God. The evil sometimes seen in the lives of some Christians is there because their doubts have not been resolved.

We do not know all that took place between the time that Thomas shared his doubts with his fellow disciples and when Jesus appeared to him. It is difficult not to believe that they tried to convince him. I think the story of Thomas is given to us to encourage us and to let us know that doubt is normal and is part of maturing as a Christian.

Unlike Thomas, we have multiple ways of resolving our doubts. All Thomas had was the few years of contact with Christ, but memories are easily dulled by time and disappointment. Today we have evidence from history, science, scripture, thousands of years of testimony and experience and a better perspective from which to view the whole picture of Christianity. One purpose of this program of work is to assist seekers in resolving their doubts. Our tools to handle our doubts are different than those of Thomas, but the situations in which we find ourselves is very much the same. We do not have all the answers and we struggle with our own doubts and fears, but sharing with others and learning what they have learned and overcome goes a long way toward building living dynamic lives.

--John N. Clayton

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