When we read the story of Thomas in the gospel of John, the disciple seems—in John’s clipped, narrative style—to be arrogant and dismissive of his companions’ claims. I’ll believe it when I see it, he tells them, when I see Him walking and talking and when I touch the wounds for myself (John 20:25). And ever since, the moniker has stuck: Doubting Thomas. But let’s start by cutting the guy a little slack. He’d just had a hard week.
There was palpable tension in the air as Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem. The Lord’s rhetoric gained intensity. He’d been talking more about kingdoms and victory, and suddenly He began to interject predictions of His own death. Didn’t Jesus have the power in His own hands to conquer death? Hadn’t they seen Him do it time and again?
A touch, and leprosy sores melted into the skin, flesh closing up behind them, and a sick person’s eyes would grow bright and clear. He yelled into a dank tomb and a dead Lazarus walked out as if awoken from a slumber. Jairus’s daughter had risen with a touch. It seemed that death, disease, and darkness fled in the presence of Jesus.
But it had all gone so horribly wrong. Let’s not forget that Judas hadn’t betrayed just Jesus; he betrayed a brotherhood that had been journeying together for several years. The others didn’t see that coming, nor did they think that Jesus would simply turn Himself over to the Jewish officials, to the Romans, to flogging, or to crucifixion. And yet, so it was.
I’ll believe it when I see it, Thomas said upon hearing of the resurrection, and perhaps we should extend him a little empathy. His sentiment makes sense when you consider that he found himself up to his armpits in the mud of disappointment, confusion, and loss.
Sometimes, in places of pain and hardship, of loss and confusion, the heart grows weary. Doubt overwhelms us.
There are some folks who get bad news—be it unemployment, divorce, or a bad diagnosis—and can immediately turn with hope to the Lord. These folks are heroes, and I thank God for the ones I know who’ve modeled such unshakeable faith. However, I don’t think that they’re the only authentic Christians in the world. The Bible presents the example of Paul, who rejoiced in his sufferings that the gospel might advance. But Scripture also gives us the Psalms, where suffering people wonder why God has forsaken them (Ps. 22:1), or lament that darkness is their only friend (Ps. 88:18 HCSB). Even Jesus Himself prayed, “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39) and “Why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46).
Sometimes, in places of pain and hardship, of loss and confusion, the heart grows weary. Doubt overwhelms us. And though it may sound strange to say it, I think it’s no coincidence that God gave us the story of Thomas, not as a warning, but as a comfort to those who struggle and doubt.
When we’re tempted between the two, silencing our doubts is more grave than voicing them. It’s hard not to perform for the people around us, to look as if we have more faith than we do. In the face of wavering faith, our heart and stomach may go diving for the basement as the safe walls of our world begin to tremble and collapse. Yet we respond by saying, “I’m a rock. I’ve got the faith for this. I can handle whatever life throws at me.” We might baptize doubt in more religious language, but it remains; we pull ourselves together. We don a mask, and off we go.
When we’re tempted between the two, silencing our doubts is more grave than voicing them.
But not Thomas. Thomas speaks his mind. And then, when Jesus shows up, the first word out of His mouth is “Peace.” He turns to Thomas and lets him feel the healed wounds in His resurrected hands and side. Christ ends by saying, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).
We miss the point of the story if we think it’s a simple admonition to fear doubt and avoid it at all costs. Instead, it’s the story of how God deals with doubt—He shows up and extends peace. He loves Thomas, even while Thomas struggles to believe. And He does the same for you and me. The message is less “don’t doubt” and more “believe.”
When trials come, and when suffering overwhelms us, we needn’t fear what emerges in our hearts. As the Psalmists do, we can call out for the courage to believe. And while Jesus may not show up in the room, inviting us to place our hands in his side, you can be sure that He is present with us.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by anonymous artist of Cremona, oil on wood