Written by Arek O’Connell
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a skeptical person. Doubt, in any arena, is not foreign to me. I was ‘that kid’ in elementary school and in the grocery store with his mom who always asked ‘why?’ Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you don’t just accept something at face value upon first glance or hear. Well, you’re in good company… or are you?
As a natural-born doubter, the story of Thomas (aka doubting Thomas) in the Gospel of John always found a way to comfort me, while at the same time brought me great anxiety. Thomas and his infamous doubt is introduced to us in John 20. Jesus has risen from the dead, he vacated his tomb and began speaking to Mary Magdalene and his disciples. While I’m sure everyone had their questions (it’s not everyday that someone rises from the dead), Thomas had more than questions. He just flat out didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him they’d seen the Lord. The only way Thomas would be convinced is if he saw the nail marks in Jesus’s hands and could put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into his side (John 20:25). For Thomas, he had to see to believe.
Almost every time I’ve read this story I have been comforted by the fact that even a disciple of Jesus, a man who was personally taught by Jesus for years, even HE struggled with doubt. However, what usually accompanied that comfort was a fair amount of anxiety brought on by Jesus’ words to Thomas. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). It’s that ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ part that always made me feel like I was missing something ‘good Christians’ possessed. I would ask myself (and still do to this day in my worst moments) ‘does God love me or bless me less because I’m so skeptical?’
Through the years I’ve received some encouraging answers to that question.
The first encouragement is this: Thomas was personally taught by Jesus for several years, and even HE struggled with doubt. Still, the words Jesus speaks to Thomas can cause us and our students to experience some anxiety: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). As a natural-born doubter myself, it’s that ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ part that always made me feel like I was missing something ‘good Christians’ possessed. I would ask myself (and still do to this day in my worst moments) ‘does God love me or bless me less because I’m so skeptical?’
Thankfully, this story offers us a second encouragement. God graciously showed me this truth several years ago when I committed to regularly give my doubt over to Him. There was one day in particular when I was deeply struggling. In that moment I returned to this familiar story, Jesus and Thomas in John 20. I expected the story to help me reject Thomas’ doubt and be encouraged by Jesus’ words. Instead, I was stunned by Jesus’ first interaction with Thomas, which I had never before noticed.
When Thomas presented his doubt to the disciples and Jesus, the first thing Jesus did was come closer to Thomas. He didn’t rebuke, shun, or shame him. He actually gave Thomas exactly what he asked for! “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (John 20:27).
I convinced myself that if I worked hard enough I could rid myself of doubt and earn God’s blessing. When in reality, Jesus shows us that even in our moments of doubt, he draws near to us and offers us grace that quite frankly we don’t deserve.
Jesus didn’t push Thomas’s doubt away. In fact, one could argue that Thomas’s doubt afforded him the opportunity to get closer to Jesus than any other human in history (he put his fingers in his side!). For Thomas, Jesus responded to his doubt in such a way that his faith and trust grew. Jesus’s gracious response to Thomas compelled him to proclaim “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Doubt can lead us to a greater level of trust, not because of anything we could offer, but only because of how Jesus graciously meets us even in our moments of doubt. When we see Jesus’s grace in his interaction with Thomas his command to “stop doubting and believe” (v. 27) sounds a lot less like a rebuke and instead becomes a gracious invitation to come closer to Jesus.
It is reminiscent of a father who assures his scared child that they can in fact jump into his arms. That child might doubt dad’s strength or ability to catch, but the father knows what he’s capable of and graciously invites the child to put their whole trust in him, knowing all along that that jump will increase the child’s faith in the father once they are embraced and safe.
In this season maybe you’re dealing with a fair amount of doubt.
You, like me, might be tempted to ask with skeptical hearts, “why would a good and powerful God allow the world to descend into such chaos?” Don’t feel the need to absolve yourself from doubt or come up with answers to questions that only Jesus can offer.
Lean into that doubt, doubt with purpose and direct it towards Jesus.
Our God who has defeated death can surely handle our inability to see him clearly in moments of chaos and doubt. Yes, doubt can be very tiring and wearisome. But praise God that Jesus’ invitation is not to come to him with answers, but to come while we are tired and weary so that we might learn from him.
Who knows? Like Thomas, perhaps our doubt will lead us closer to Jesus than ever before.