Last time I left with a question, what causes doubts to form? When we have know something, believed something or seen something, what causes us to begin doubting those things? I think a biblical story helps point out a few reasons why this happens.
How would you like your name forever associated with doubt? Doubting Ryan. Doubting Bob. Doubting Jill. Doubting Thomas.
For two centuries Thomas, the disciple, has been shackled to doubt. So much so that we almost say “Doubting Thomas” in the same way that we would call anyone by their full name. He has forever been labeled by one period of time in his life. (Let me diverge for just a moment to point out that I hope you know that one period of time shouldn’t define your whole life but we have all seen where that has happened.)
What caused Thomas’ doubt? Did he have a overwhelming lack of faith? Was he an early modernist who needed objective proof?
I think there are three reasons for Thomas’ doubt that dive beneath the superficial answers. Those reason also give insight into the doubts that you and I journey through.
The first thing that caused Thomas’ doubt was that his doubt was based on an event, on an idea that was completely beyond the normal. Remember what was happening. Jesus had been crucified and entombed for three days when the disciples claim that Jesus has appeared to them, not as a ghost or a vision but as a real, living, resurrected person. That reality was completely beyond the thought process of Thomas- and many Jews for that matter. While some Jews did believe in the resurrection of the dead, they believed that it would take place at the end of time and that it would coincide with God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies. To paraphrase NT Wright, for God to raise Jesus from the dead in the middle of time completely threw off their idea of how God would work in the world. It was natural for Thomas to be doubtful.
We experience the same thing. Our reality cannot understand why a child, a parent or a spouse had to die. Our normal does not include tragedy or suffering. The way things are suppose to work doesn’t include the battle or physical or mental disease. These aren’t the ways God is suppose to work in the world. And we, like Thomas, doubt.
The second thing that caused Thomas’ doubt was it came from a missed common experience. When Jesus appeared all the disciples were there- except Thomas (and Judas, but he was dead). The others saw, Thomas didn’t. The others heard, Thomas didn’t. The others believed, Thomas didn’t. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see, hear and believe but he missed the common experience of those who did and it caused him to doubt.
Once again, we experience the same thing. There are numerous examples of this. It could be a feeling of missing a blessing that everyone else seemingly has been given. It could be that God is “more real” in the lives of other than in your life. It could be that God moved in your church the week you happened to miss. No matter what it is, it’s hard to believe when it feels like you are left out.
The third thing that caused Thomas’ doubt was that it came from the need for verification. Here we get close to the standard explanation for Thomas’ doubt. It usually goes something like this: Thomas couldn’t believe the testimony of the women who saw the empty tomb, he couldn’t take the word of John and Peter who saw that the tomb was empty, he couldn’t believe the experience of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus and he couldn’t comprehend the story of Jesus appearing to the ten remaking disciples. Thomas needed proof; he didn’t only want to see and hear but he wanted to touch- then he would believe. Jesus did let Thomas touch but we are more blessed because we can believe without physical proof, we have faith.
We would like to think that we are above Thomas’ desire for verification but we aren’t. We desire the same verification, we just search for it in different means. We seek verification in verses of scripture. We seek it in the counsel of others. We seek it in church when the pastor “was speaking just to me.” We seek it in feelings that we then describe as “God told me to…”. We ask God for signs, opportunities, success and, though rarely, restraint.
I find it interesting, though misleading to you and I, that Jesus does offer Thomas verification and it would be an easy thing to make a leap and say that God offers verification in all circumstances but I’m not sure that is true. There isn’t a scriptural verse for every circumstance and asking for a sign doesn’t mean that God sends one. I think the lesson from Thomas’ experience is two fold. One, doubt can form from a number of different places. Two, Jesus didn’t leave Thomas in doubt. In the case of Thomas, Jesus did answer each of his causes of doubt; Jesus showed that he was resurrected, he appeared when Thomas was with the other disciples and he offered to let Thomas touch him. I don’t think God leaves us in our doubts but, like I said earlier, I think it would be a mistake to assume that God will answer each doubt, of every person, in every case.
What about you, have you experienced doubt because of an event or a reality that was or is completely outside the normal? Have you experienced doubt because of a missed common experience or the need for verification? Tell your story in the comment section.