Doubters are people who question today what defined their entire life the day before.
Speaking from my vantage point in the world of Christianity, I can’t think of a single person I know who either used to doubt or continues to do so whose period of uncertainty wasn’t preceded by a time in their life when everything they’re now questioning was solid. They were the people for whom the love of God came easy, so easy that they didn’t care about not having all the answers to particular questions. They could shrug off things like, “Why does the God of Joshua seem at such violent odds with Jesus, God-in-the-flesh?” They could not be bothered about questions that keep other people up at night because if they had to use another word to describe “faith”, it would be “certainty”.
They were so sure of themselves, of God, of Jesus, of the Bible.
They were Thomas.
Peter always gets the most attention of the Twelve. Judas is remembered as the traitor. Bartholomew, well, we’re assuming that at some point, the man actually talked. (He’s like Ronnie in the first few seasons of The Shield–a constant presence that requires no dialogue.) Thomas is known as the doubter, thanks to the fact that he was the only member of the inner circle who didn’t believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
But before he was a doubter, Thomas was in. I mean, he was really in it. At some point, he had made the decision to leave what he had to follow Jesus. He was like so many of the people I know who used to be so sure of what they believed. And the reason I think that is because of this episode, recorded in John’s gospel, long before Thomas expressed his world-famous doubts:
Then after this [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” … Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When everyone else questions the latest plan that Jesus has come up with, Thomas is the only one in their number who argues that they should go. I think there’s some negativity in his voice, to be sure. Thomas could very well be that guy who complains a lot but, in the end, follows through for you. Either way, there’s devotion here. The kind of devotion that makes a person lay down their life for what they believe.
Because Thomas believed Jesus would rescue Israel. All the disciples did. They were so certain of this, they would argue with each other about who would the greatest among them in Jesus’ kingdom. Even after the Resurrection, the Eleven wondered if this was going to be the moment when Jesus rescued his country.
Thomas carried in his heart all sorts of beliefs about the God he’d grown up believing and the Scriptures he’d heard at every synagogue. They defined who he was, and eventually, his faith came to be centered around Jesus himself.
And at the Crucifixion, Thomas realized that he’d been wrong the entire time.
Jesus wasn’t going to rescue anyone; who could he save from the grave? (Now that you mention it …)
Thomas had been devoted. He’d given his life for what he believed, and it turned out that what he believed hadn’t been worth believing. So it’s no wonder that this poor guy reacted with such skepticism when the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus again, two days after the Romans had killed him.
Thomas wasn’t a doubter because he just didn’t want to believe.
I think he doubted because he had burned for placing too much faith in Jesus and just didn’t have it in him to try it again.
He doubted because he just didn’t have faith in him anymore. He didn’t have the will. He’d had faith, and because of that, he’d been made to look like an idiot. Why go down that road twice?
I’ve been in that position before. So have a lot of my friends. I think this is one of those things that’s required of you, if you’re really intent on following Christ and making him the epicenter of your life. You’re eventually going to have one of those moments where the Lord asks, “Do you want to leave to?” And you’re going to feel a strong inclination to go, because at that moment, everything you believe is going to feel foolish.
You’re going to realize that people have good arguments for not becoming a Christian, and you don’t have good answers for them. You’re going to realize that there are ways in which the Bible doesn’t appear as reliable as you were promised by your church leaders that it is. You’re going to encounter differing interpretations of Scripture and wonder how you can know any of this is true when so many churches can’t agree on what their own holy book is supposed to be saying.
Something will get you. It’s unavoidable.
I think people survive these life-changing episodes in different ways. Some find the answers they were looking for; some don’t. For me, I’ve never found that one apologetic argument to end all doubts. What I’ve found–and what I hope might help you when you find yourself in this horrifying situation–is that I needed an encounter with the resurrected Christ.
I needed to see His scars. Not to get objective proof, but because I needed to see Him.
I needed to see the scars and the Man who had them and be reminded that there are things I can’t explain, no matter how hard I try. Thomas wasn’t won over with any clever apologetic argument. (Can you picture one of the disciples using a modern Christian defense and saying, “Well, we were all cowards on Friday and now we’re boldly proclaiming Jesus to you, Thomas. What else would have caused that, if not the Resurrection?”)
Thomas was won over by Jesus, who invited him to touch the scars that he bore from the cross. Thomas didn’t. He didn’t need to. Jesus told him to stop doubting and believe. It’s probably a rebuke of Thomas’ lack of faith, but I also wonder if there’s something else here.
I wonder if Jesus is inviting Thomas to start again and reclaim the faith that had led him to this moment.
I don’t worry about my friends who used to believe but now don’t. (In some cases, I suspect that what they’re really doubting is a crooked religious system, in which case they may now be standing closer to Jesus than even they themselves realize.) I even think that in whatever future periods of doubt I have, I’ll be okay. And that holds the same for you, too. Not because I can explain why.
Because there’s a God out there who still bears scars on His arms.
Because if our faith is going to be Christ-like, then at some point it’s going to have to die before it can rise again.