The twin Thomas can not belive without seeing the risen Jesus, as it is written in John chapter 20. Here is the devotional based on this text.
Why doubt is no reason to despair!
- A mature faith – a faith that wants to mature – allows doubts.
- Jesus himself reaches out to those in doubt!
- From doubt to wonder and to testimony
Why doubt is no reason to despair!
Do you know the most famous or rather the most infamous doubter in the Bible? Most of think of Thomas, who is usually referred to as »Thomas the Doubter« or even »Thomas the Unbeliever«. The apostle Thomas: he has a bad reputation in history, we all know the phrase »you’re a doubting Thomas«.
The biblical epithet is, however, a completely different one: Thomas, the twin. Thomas‹ bad reputation: I find it rather unfair. I would like to invite you to look at the biblical text of Thomas and Jesus, which you can read in the gospel of John chapter 20, verses 24–29, from a different perspective, and highlight a few points that became important to me when reflecting on this text as I prepared this devotional:
A mature faith – a faith that wants to mature – allows doubts.
Thomas admits his doubts, says openly what he needs. From a character point of view, Thomas was somebody who tended to question things, who wanted to understand what was expected of him. He openly admits when he’s not sure about something, is someone who is not prepared to rely purely on the testimony of the other disciples, but wants to experience the risen Jesus himself. His doubts are honest doubts from someone who has experienced a lot with Jesus.
Personally, I find the way that Thomas looks for answers sympathetic, I find it sympathetic that he doesn’t suppress his questions or accept what he hears from his friends, what they have experienced as truth, without reflecting it for himself, without wanting to see Jesus himself. When the apostles tell him that Jesus, who had been crucified the week before, has appeared in their midst. Thomas expresses his needs with hard but honest words: “I will never believe that! I would first have to feel the traces of the nails on his hands and feel them with my finger and put my hand in his side wound – otherwise not!«
Thomas says what he needs, he expresses his doubts – but he doesn’t run away. Thomas wants to believe. And he remains – and this is another thing that is important to me in reflecting this text – with the other disciples – despite his questions! He wants to believe, to be convinced, he’ s a sincere sceptic.
And the other disciples: they apparently put up with Thomas’s questions, tell him what they have experienced and leave it at that. They accept that their experience and their truth is not – not yet – Thomas’ experience, not yet a truth he can confess for himself. The other disciples neither condemn Thomas – or at least I assume they don’t – nor marginalize him or make him feel uncomfortable in their presence. If they had, Thomas would probably not have been with them when Jesus reappeared again. When Jesus does appear in their midst again, promise them His peace, they can rejoice along Thomas with him, all of them together.
What can happen if doubts are suppressed or when churches cannot cope with doubts and critical questions being openly expressed: that is a reason to despair, not the doubts themselves.
A few years ago, I read a book that really made me think. It was entitled: “Why I no longer believe” and it was about so-called deconversion. About the reasons why young adults give up or lose their faith, including many who as children and teenagers had been convinced and confessing Christians. One of the main reasons identified among people who had once believed and no longer could was that had felt unable to talk about their questions or doubts. They had suppressed them, had the feeling that no one in their churches or families wanted to hear them, that no-one understood them. And somewhere along the line they lost their faith as they hadn’t found answers to their questions. Added to that, many of the people had suffered from the fact that they felt as though their churches and other Christians hadn’t been there for them, hadn’t taken their questions seriously.
In many paintings, Thomas is often depicted as a young man. And the biblical story of Jesus and Thomas is often read in services of confirmation or blessing in both Protestant and Catholic churches. Certainly, it is not only young people who often have many questions, but young people, including teenagers, do often question many of the things they have been brought up with, want to make their decisions, start to ask questions. And that’s good so. But regardless of our age, whether, young or old: the story of Thomas and Jesus encourages us all to ask our questions, to express our doubts, and in so doing to stay close to Jesus and close to our brothers and sisters. And as Christians and congregations, the text challenges us to accept it when people express doubts, not to condemn or play down their questions and doubts, but to listen and be there for them.
This is the first message that is important to me in this text: A mature faith, a faith that will mature, allows doubt – and a loving, mature church also permits and accepts doubt.
The second message which became important to me when reflecting on this text:
Jesus Himself reaches out to those in doubt!
Thomas remains open to others, is open to having his doubt refuted, he stays with the other disciples. In the end, however, it is the risen Lord himself who in His grace reaches out to Thomas, who reaches out to individuals, with all Thomas’s, with all our doubts and questions. In the biblical text Jesus appears a second time to the disciples after the crucifixion, this time Thomas is with them. Again, they are closeted up behind locked doors. And what does Jesus do: He reaches out to Thomas, tells him to put his fingers in His side – in words almost identical to the demand that Thomas had made.
I really love the way Jesus reaches out to His friend! He knew him, took him seriously, addressed his needs. Jesus doesn’t really condemn Thomas: He just takes him in his arms, gives him what he needs to believe. Grants him his own experience. Jesus can cope with Thomas’s questions, He reaches out to him in, despite and because of his doubts.
For me, this is a deeply comforting and encouraging picture. Jesus doesn’t judge Thomas; He doesn’t judge anyone for wanting to be sure. Jesus can cope with our questions and doubts. We don’t have to suppress them, but can and should express them. Jesus Himself reaches out to those who honestly doubt, He gives us everything we need to believe.
My third and last point:
From doubt to wonder and to testimony
Perhaps you can see in your mind the well-known pictures where Thomas puts his fingers in the wound. That is, however, not said in the biblical text, probably wasn’t the case. What has been handed down is rather a moving testimony. Thomas is the first person to formulate a post-resurrection testimony, of such beauty as we rarely experience: Thomas says to Jesus: »My Lord and my God«. It is the first time in the Gospels that a person addresses Jesus as God. The great »doubter«, the supposedly unbelieving Thomas, has become someone with great faith, who has put his doubts behind him, who in wondrous praise testifies the Lord.
Thomas had seen how Jesus had coped with his doubts, how Jesus had reached out to him. And so his faith can take on new dimensions: the doubting Thomas becomes a wonderous, a confessing Thomas who is said to have died for his faith in the risen Lord as a martyr in India.
Perhaps you’ve been able to experience how your faith has grown when you have confronted your questions and your doubts. Sometimes God has given us answers, and these answers have strengthened our faith. Sometimes, we haven’t, at least yet, had answers to our questions, but still have been experience how our trust in the Lord can grow, despite questions, sometimes difficult times and dark moments, where still we can experience the peace which transcends all reason and can confess in amazement: »My Lord and my God.«
At the end of the encounter between Jesus and Thomas, Jesus says to Thomas: »You believe because you see me. How happy are those who believe without seeing me!« For me, this sentence is directed less at Thomas than at us, at all those who are not immediate witnesses of the risen Lord. It is not so much Jesus reproaching Thomas as Jesus reaching out to us with a wonderful promise and blessing. Faith is possible without seeing, the risen Lord gives us His word that we may believe.
To end with, you usually sum the points that you’ve made. That’s exactly what I did to start with when I was writing down my thoughts on this text. And then I thought: What a boring conclusion. So I decided to finish on a different note, with two fictional scenes which I hope might encourage you to think anew about a text that most of us have heard many times.
A little provocatively, perhaps, but a chance to reflect what might have happened if Thomas, whom we often call doubting, had not in his wisdom and maturity have allowed and faced up to his doubts. Of what might have happened had the disciples in their maturity reacted less lovingly, less wisely.
The first fictional scenario:
Thomas meets Jesus after his own death. Our Lord is sad: »My child, I have been waiting so long to give you answers to your questions. But you never bothered to ask me them, you ran away from me and from the other disciples. I wanted so much to answer your questions, to let you experience and see me yourself. My child: you couldn’t have known, but so many other Christians who will come after you, who believe but will not get the chance to see would have been blessed by your story.«
The second fictional scenario:
Another disciple meets Jesus again after his own death. Our Lord is sad: »My child, do you know what you did when you told Thomas to stop questioning everything that you and the other disciples had experienced? When you reprimanded and scolded him for his doubts, telling him to stop questioning everything and just believe what they were telling him? With your help I wanted to reach out to Thomas and give a gift not just to Thomas but to all those who will come after him, who will not see but will believe.«
Brothers and sisters, let us be thankful that the story took a different turn! Doubt is no reason to despair! Amen.