Summary: We know Thomas as "the Doubter," but he had great faith.
When I watch movies, I find myself asking, "Is that a good guy or a bad guy?" You see, Hollywood generally portrays its characters as either good guys or bad guys, and you have to understand which character is which if you’re going to understand the story line. The good guys always wear white hats, shoot straight and always tell the truth. Bad guys always wear black, never shoot straight, lie through their teeth, and they never have a single redeeming feature. In Hollywood, most everyone is either a good guy or a bad guy.
But that’s not the way things are in real life. We still have the good and the bad, but most folks are a mixture of the two. Even the best of people have feet of clay; even the worst of people have an occasional good quality.
Even our Christian lives are lived in a struggle between these two sides of our nature. There is the one side that calls us to follow God, to have fellowship with Him, and to obey His commandments. The Bible calls this side of our nature "the spirit." But there is another side of us that seeks to rebel against God and his commands; the Bible calls this side of us "the flesh." We’re often a battlefield where the flesh and the spirit fight for supremacy.
And if you think that sounds like an overly dramatic statement, then listen to Paul in Romans 7. It’s a passage that can be a little bit confusing (especially in the King James Version), so I’ve decided to read from the New Century Version: "We know that the law is spiritual, but I am not spiritual since sin rules me as if I were its slave. I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate....Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me -- I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do....In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner." (Romans 7:14-15,18-19,22-23).
Paul very eloquently captures the essence of the Christian struggle -- it’s a struggle between right and wrong, between strength and weakness, between the flesh and the spirit. And the good that our spiritual nature wants to do very often is counterbalanced by the evil that our flesh insists on doing. That struggle goes on constantly. Our spiritual growth and maturity as Christians doesn’t stop the struggle; it only increases the number of victories that we win.
One of the problems that we face in this struggle, though, is that we sometimes think that we’re the only ones who feel that way. We look around at other people, other Christians, and we may see no signs of such a battle going on in their lives. We feel so intensely that battle between flesh and spirit raging within us, but we don’t see that struggle in anyone else. Everyone else seems to have it all together spiritually.
I remember hearing the story of two Christian men walking down the street, one of them about 40 years old and the other about 80. As they walked together, there was a young, beautiful woman that passed by. As their conversation resumed, the 40-year-old said, "I’ll be glad when I’m old enough that I won’t have to struggle with thoughts of lust." And the 80-year-old responded, "So will I."
It’s true, isn’t it, that all Christians, no matter how mature, are pretty much like ducks swimming in the pond. On the surface we may appear to be calm and passive, but underneath we’re all paddling like mad, struggling with our faith and our feelings, torn between what we know is right and what we’re tempted to do.
I think it’s important for us to admit that. I think sometimes people who aren’t Christians get to know us and they say, "I don’t fit in with this group. They’ve got it all together and I’ve got so many struggles. They would never understand!" Or sometimes a new Christian has these feelings and feels guilty because nobody else seems to.
So I think it’s important for us to admit that, to one degree or another, we all walk a tight-rope of sorts between strength and weakness, between faith and doubt. Like ping-pong balls, we bounce back and forth between the two extremes, some days feeling very strong and adequate, other days wondering how God puts up with the many ways that we disappoint him.