Summary: Highlights the difference between a healthy skepticism and cynicism
If I were to mention the names of certain Biblical characters to you and asked you to write down the first word that comes into your mind, it is doubtful that many of you would come up with similar words. If I were to mention the name of Judas many of you would write down the word betray or traitor. If I were to mention Noah, perhaps some of you would write down the word ark. If I were to mention, Jonah, you might write down big fish or whale. But when I mention the word Thomas, there is little question about the word most everyone would write down. It would be the word doubting. Indeed, so closely have we associated Thomas with this word, that we have coined a phrase to describe him: “Doubting Thomas.”
You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels we are told absolutely nothing at all about this disciple. It is in John’s Gospel that he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then there are only 155 words about him.
It is perhaps unfair to single out one moment in the life of a person and remember them only for that one point in time. George Wallace of Alabama did much good in the last two decades of his life in working to heal the wounds between the races. He admitted that he was wrong for his earlier actions. Yet, history will forever remember him for one moment in time——when he stood at the door of the University of Alabama and barred the way for black students to enter.
The same is true for Thomas. When Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them. It was Thomas who said: Then let us go so that we may die with him. It was a courageous statement, yet we don’t remember him for that.
Lets set the scene, it is Sunday night, the disciples are hiding in fear in a locked room in Jersualem. Peter, had reported the tomb where Jesus was buried was empty, Mary even claimed to have seen and talked to Jesus. Rumors were circulating like flies on a summer night. The disciples were afraid that the jewish leaders might try to squash any news of the resurrection with doing to them what had been done to Jesus. In the midst of all this, Jesus suddenly appears in the room. He invites the disciples to check out the scars on his hands and side. It is really the savior, he is alive. Thomas was not with the other apostles when all this happened, so later they tell him their story. Thomas, possibly thinking the heat and pressure had gotten to the others, responds by telling them, unless I too see the nail prints on his hand and be able to touch where he was wounded, I will not believe. Thomas experience just doesn’t include dead men walking, so he will just live with his skepticism until he could not only see, but touch for himself.
A week later, the apostles including Thomas are gathered in the same room and again the doors are lock, suddenly Jesus pulls his appearing act on them again. This time he focuses on Thomas, the one who refused to believe the testimony of the others.
More often than not at this point, I have heard teachers and preachers claim that Jesus criticizes Thomas for his doubts, but when I examine the passage I see something else.
First, rather than putting Thomas down, he invites Thomas to check him out, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”. Jesus is saying Thomas I understand your doubts, so I want you to come to me and allow me to resolve your doubts. Jesus does not offer criticism to the skeptic but rather an invitation.
I think a certain amount of skepticism can be a healthy thing. The word skeptic means to look at a matter closely, to scrutinize, to study with great care and in minute detail. On this definition, what the church needs is not less but more skepticism. If I believed everything about God that I heard from the pulpit or t.v., I would be both spiritually and financially poor. Thomas was going to reserve judgment until he could verify the story himself. A person who does not reserve a certain amount of doubt or skepticism is just plain gullible.
In fact my experience tells me to be a little cautious of those people who never question or doubt. Recording artist Billy Joel in his song “” wrote “And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts.” A faith that does not ask difficult questions is a faith that has becomes stagnant and stunted. An unexamined faith is not worth living.