How to doubt well
Though he is considered the patron saint of India, where tradition has it that he took the gospel after the resurrection, I like to think of the apostle Thomas as the patron saint of journalists. After all, he wouldn’t just take other people’s word for something.
That resonates with me professionally as an example of the redeemed skepticism I believe is one of the spiritual gifts for Christians in the news business. I also draw some personal encouragement from his example.
I think he gets a bit of a bad rap with the Doubting Thomas thing. His uncertainty gives me some comfort on those occasional mornings when I wake up and think to myself, Do I really believe all this stuff? (I suspect I am not the only one who does this, by the way…). And his actions give me a way forward.
Thomas is a bit of a supporting character in the Gospel accounts, though his refusal to believe that the other disciples had seen Jesus alive again wasn’t the first time he had raised questions. Remember that when Jesus had talked about going ahead to prepare a place for His followers, Thomas had answered, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 24:29).
He could be a bit clueless at times. But when he had questions–hard questions–he did some things right.
He stayed true to himself. He didn’t just go along with all the others because they were persuaded. They were people he had walked and wondered with for a long time; he knew them well, so he must have had an idea that something significant had happened for their attitudes to have changed so much.
Yet, he must have also known that this was too big a thing for him to leave for others to decide for him. He had to know for himself, to see for himself. That refusal to “just go along” can make others uncomfortable.
He stayed in place. Though all that he had believed seemed to be up for grabs, he didn’t just throw it over and flounce off. Maybe, for one, he had nowhere else safe to go. For all his uncertainty, though, while he could not accept what his friends were telling him, he also knew that he could not simply deny all they had been through together. Maybe there was something to what they were saying.
Disbelief doesn’t necessarily mean you reject everything, immediately. Sometimes it just leaves you hanging uncomfortably for a while. I doubt can also be I do, but… So, uncomfortable as it must have been, Thomas hung around. Did the others try to persuade him? Did they lecture and guilt him? Or did they just love him as a dear friend and give him the time and space he needed?
However it went down, I love the way it concluded. Yes, when He revealed Himself to Thomas a week later, Jesus lovingly chided him and urged him to believe. But notice the tender way in which He did it.
When Jesus came and stood among the disciples, He told Thomas to look at His hands. And, to place his hands on Jesus’s side. This was a direct response to the doubts Thomas had expressed earlier when he told the others, “Unless I see the nail points in His hands, and put my finger in the nail prints, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
It was as if Jesus was saying to him, See, Thomas, I heard you. Every word you spoke. And I have the specific answers you are looking for.
I’m encouraged to believe that He similarly hears my uncertainties. And—as I stay true to myself and stay in place—He will bring the answers I am seeking.
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