Summary: Everyone has faith doubts from time to time. "Doubting Thomas" teaches us to guard ourselves in our low times, draw strength from others, and take our doubts to the risen Lord.
John 20:19-20, 24-29
Everyone goes through doubts in their faith from time to time. Even Mother Teresa had doubts. She once wrote her spiritual director, “Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
Her spiritual director reassured her with the basic message, “The fact that you have doubts means that your faith is real.” No doubts, no testing; and no testing, no real faith. Show me a faith that has never experienced doubt, and I’ll show you a day-old faith, or worse, a pretend faith, a fake faith. At times, we may doubt whether God hears our prayers. Sometimes we wonder when young children die or when an evil person seems to succeed in life, or we go through a great personal challenge. Everyone has doubts, and they’re actually good for you, because they drive you back to the risen Lord for answers.
Thomas gets a bad rap for his doubts. He even earns a nickname: “Doubting Thomas.” Yet, Thomas was just as committed as the other ten disciples, perhaps even more so in some ways. Just days or weeks before that first Palm Sunday, Jesus told the disciples that he had to go to Bethany, because his friend Lazarus was very sick. Most of the disciples cautioned him away from the idea because of all the hatred towards him fuming in nearby Jerusalem. Yet, Thomas responded, in John 11:16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
OK, the guy’s a little pessimist, but you have to give him an A for bravery. He was willing to stick his neck out on the line. It was Thomas who responded a little later to Jesus’ assurances of heaven. Jesus was telling his disciples, in John 14, that he had to go away to prepare a place for them. Jesus told them they knew the way. But good old Thomas was brave enough to ask the question on everyone’s mind as he said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” I’m glad he asked, because this prompted Jesus to respond, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5-6). It’s a great verse in our Bibles!
Yes, Thomas had his gutsy moments. But by the time Jesus went to the cross, Thomas, along with every other disciple except John, had scattered to the four winds. They were all cowering in fear and self-preservation.
On that first Easter morning, the two Mary’s encountered the risen Lord, as did Peter and John. Then, on Sunday night, ten of the disciples met Jesus face to face. Christ spoke right to their doubts as he showed them his hands and his side, proving to them it was really him.
But where was Thomas? We don’t know for sure, but can you imagine the shock he felt when the others told him, “We saw him ... alive!”? Thomas is the original Missourian, as he replied, “Show me!” Let’s think about Thomas’ example as we, like him, go through our own times of doubt. How can you defeat your doubts? Three ideas:
1. Guard in your low times. When you’re really down, really depressed, don’t make any rash decisions. Don’t go out and buy a car, or decide to move, or decide to get married ... or decide to get divorced. Give yourself some time to get through the low times before you act impulsively. And so it is with doubts: don’t give into them in the midst of your depression. Just recognize them for what they are: doubts. OK, you have doubts. That means you have faith. Good job! Your faith is more than your doubts.
Thomas was certainly in a down time. His Lord had been crucified. His life was in jeopardy, and his hopes were dashed. Maybe that’s why he was away, just grieving by himself. We don’t know for sure. But fortunately, he did not do anything rash. Eventually he returned to his friends, his fellow disciples, which reminds us of another doubt defeater. Guard in your low times, and ...
2. Draw strength from others. It was when Thomas was away that his doubts held sway. Isolation magnified those doubts. He missed Jesus’ visit because he had left his fellow believers. Separate a coal from the rest of the fire, and what happens? It goes out. We need each other. When you feel least like going to church, that’s when you need to the most. When you most want to hide in your home, that’s when you need to force yourself to get out and be with others. Together we are the body of Christ, and when one hurts, the whole body hurts; when one celebrates, the whole body celebrates. Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is in our midst.