By Javan Rowe
When we contemplate doubt and what the Bible says on the subject, our attention tends to fall on Thomas. We are familiar with the passage where Thomas uttered those infamous words, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). That instance has dubbed him with the unfortunate nickname “Doubting Thomas.” So prevalent is this nickname, it is even in the secular vernacular.
But is this a true characterization of the disciple or is there more to the story?
Thomas, the Disciple
The first mention of Thomas in Scripture is Matthew 10:3 in the list of the appointed Twelve. Though there is not much detail given, it must be noted that when Christ called, Thomas followed. This is foundational to our discussion of this apostle because beneath his more unholy attributes and actions there laid willingness.
An interesting detail is that three times in John we are given the parenthetical statement that Thomas was called Didymus—Greek for twin (see 11:16; 20:24; and 21:2). Assuming he had a sibling, I wonder about this unmentioned other twin. Did he or she not have an interest in Christ, making Thomas’s choice all the more difficult? Regardless, a decision was made to follow Christ, despite how family or friends felt about it. He was chosen, but he also consented to follow Christ as a disciple.
Thomas, the Brave
It’s too bad that so many know Thomas only for his moment of doubt rather than the event that occurred in John 11. Jesus told his disciples that he wanted to return to Bethany in Judea, back to the place where the Jewish people had previously tried to kill him. After the disciples argued against the merits of traveling there, we read this: “Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (v. 16).
Some say that this response demonstrates his doubt and pessimism. To that I respond, so what? Sure, Thomas may have been a bit melodramatic here, but there was bravery in this statement. I am certain that he felt the same as the other disciples regarding the wisdom of Christ’s strategy, yet he yielded to Jesus.
Maybe he did have a bent toward pessimism, where he tended to doubt things. The important thing is when Christ called him as a disciple, he followed. And then when all of the others were resistant, including Peter, Thomas was the one who spoke up with a willingness to follow Jesus in this seemingly insane plan.
Thomas, the Seeker
A philosopher is someone who seeks after knowledge. We may not know if Thomas was a philosopher as we commonly think of them, but we must acknowledge that he sought after answers. It was Thomas’s questioning that led to perhaps one of Jesus’ most beloved quotes.
Jesus had told the disciples he was leaving and that they knew where he was going. Thomas, not one to be left in the dark, responded, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). To this, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (vs. 6). Thomas had to know things for certain.
This seems to be the heart behind the statement “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This was uttered by a man who desperately wanted his son healed. The same can be applied to Thomas, a man who certainly had doubts like all of us, but his life as a whole appeared to be that of one who sought after answers.
Lessons from Thomas
So now we return to that moment of doubt for Thomas. The rest of the disciples had seen the resurrected Christ, with the exception of Thomas. We do not know why he resisted the testimony of the other disciples and the women who had followed Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps his pessimism clouded his hope. Or maybe he was a materialist at heart, where he had to see, feel, smell, and taste in order for it to be real. Regardless of the reason, he doubted.
But this is just one snapshot among an entire reel of life experiences that showed a man who was a willing disciple and an avid seeker, who demonstrated undeniable bravery. Thomas, like many others in found Scripture, are written about, warts and all, in order to provide vital lessons for us in our own Christian walks.
Be willing, despite our doubts.
Thomas had doubts. He ran off like the rest of the disciples when Jesus was arrested. He then doubted Jesus had been resurrected. However, he did not allow those setbacks to prevent him from becoming active in the early church. Likewise, when we suffer from temporary doubt or even feel like we have failed the Lord, we cannot stay down. We must get back up and follow Christ.
Paul reminds us, “If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” (Romans 3:3, NASB). Regardless of our doubts, we must be willing to continue to follow Christ because he remains faithful. He is not restrained by our doubts but is faithful despite our shortcomings.
Search after answers.
In Psalm 18:28 David wrote, “My God turns my darkness into light.” The reason behind our doubts is because God has not illuminated the situation. God is the source of light and is thereby the only one capable of providing true light. Thomas did not believe because he had not seen Christ like the rest of the disciples. He remained in the dark, so to speak.
When Jesus came and asked Thomas to look at the holes in his hands, Thomas was illuminated with Christ’s light, and doubt was subsequently removed. Paul gave this word of hope in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” We must seek God’s illuminating of himself, as Jesus revealed himself to Thomas, knowing that someday the Lord will give us answers to our questions.
Give your all.
Our discussion cannot be complete without considering Thomas’s fate. One early church tradition says he spread the gospel in Partha and Persia. He may have also started churches in India where he was eventually martyred by being fatally pierced with a spear. In fact, there are a number of churches still in India that may have their roots in Thomas’s ministry.
This does not sound like a man mired in doubt. He may have had bouts of uncertainty, but they did not characterize him. He was an individual with plenty of shortcomings, but with a heart that sought after the Lord and a life spent in service of Christ. If only we all could be like Thomas—this man who was willing to follow Christ unapologetically, sought after answers, and gave his entire life over to God.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio (eyesonthekingdom.com).
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