Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Doubt: protection in the pack

IF DOUBT CAN keep us from all the “more” that God has for us—namely, that abundant life—what are some ways we can overcome the tug toward a lack of trust that He really has our good in mind? There are some pointers in the story of one of the most famous doubters in Scripture. He is the man whose very name is synonymous with it. 

Though he was one of the 12 who had seen Jesus’s ministry up close and personal for three years, when the others spoke of Jesus’s resurrection, “Doubting” Thomas declared, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

For those struggling with doubt, Thomas’s story offers two helpful responses: speak it out and stay close.

First, Thomas didn’t hide his uncertainty; he gave it voice. We often emphasize in Christian circles the importance of speaking positively. We like to remind others how there is power in the tongue and all that. While that’s true, there is also power in letting the negative out. After all, through confession our sin is removed. As we bring the dark things out into the light, they are dissolved. When we name the monsters hiding under our bed, they are somehow defanged. Remember the old saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

The psalmists had no problem airing their despair, disillusionment, and doubt to God. And, often, in doing so they talked themselves round back into belief. After giving voice to worry, Psalm 42 closes with, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (v. 11).

It’s worth noting that God clearly hears our doubts. When Jesus appeared again to the disciples—with Thomas present this time—He invited the doubter to examine His wounds. After all, that was what Thomas had declared he would need to see to believe. I can’t help suspecting that Jesus had a twinkle in His eye when He made this invitation.

But Thomas didn’t only admit and declare his doubts. He did it in community. He stayed close to those he cared about and who cared for him. Eight days after he missed the resurrected Jesus, he was still there with the other followers, doubts and all.

When we are struggling with doubt it can be tempting to pull away from other believers. Maybe because of shame or embarrassment: “I’ve been a Christian for so many years; how can I admit I’m struggling with this?” or “I’m a small-group leader; what will people say if I confess I have questions?”

Or maybe we detach because of resentment or discomfort. Here we are struggling with this big issue, and all the people around us are just so happy and full of faith. “They just don’t understand or care about what I am going through.”

In John 10:10, when Jesus spoke about coming to give us abundant life, He also spoke of another who came only to kill, steal and destroy. This enemy is only too keen to see those struggling doubt detach from the group because they are easier to pick off.

Remember how Peter warned, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He’s like predators in the wild which look for the weak, the weary and the wounded on the edges of the group because they make easy prey.

There is protection in the pack; it’s the original herd immunity, you might say. Like Thomas, stay connected. Maybe hearing their accounts of the risen Jesus kept him close, hoping that maybe Thomas would experience the same thing one day—just as he did, in due course.

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