Summary: A look at doubt and faith
One day a young mother came into her daughter’s room to find her busy with her crayons and paper. “What are you drawing?” she asked. Her daughter paused and said, “A picture of God.” Her mother smiled and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl continued with her work and matter-of-factly stated, “They will when I get through.”
That is what John is doing when he writes his Gospel — he is painting a portrait of God, and when he is done God’s picture will look like Jesus. He is saying, “They will know what God looks like when I get through.” He states at the end of this chapter: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). One way John does that is to take us through the life of Thomas as he journeys from doubt to faith.
Thomas is perhaps the least understood and one of the most maligned of the disciples. But there is no one quite like Thomas. He is a natural skeptic, often leaning toward pessimism. He is the kind of person who sees problems more clearly than he sees solutions. He wanders in the dark more than he walks in the light. His mind is full of questions and even answers that are acceptable to most everyone else do not satisfy him. He is an analyst. He likes to tear things apart and look at them to see how they work. He wants to understand everything before he will believe in anything.
Let’s look at the personality profile of this skeptic. Almost everything we know about Thomas is found in the Gospel of John. John’s main concern in his gospel is moving people from doubt to faith, so Thomas is a natural study. In the eleventh chapter of John, Jesus has just informed the disciples of the death of their friend Lazarus, and then tells them that he is going to Bethany to raise him from the dead. But the disciples are aware that Bethany is only a few miles from Jerusalem, and the officials are seeking to put Jesus to death. Going there will mean that all of them will be placed in harm’s way. The rest of the disciples just sit in stunned silence at Jesus’ announcement. Their minds are filled with fear and uncertainty. But John writes, “Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (John 11:16). In effect he says, “We are all going to die. I just know it. We might as well go and get it over with.” Thomas always expects the worst, but this time his pessimism is rooted in reality. The disciples will not die, because they will all run, but Christ will be taken to the cross — an awful end to a glorious life and ministry. Yet, to his credit, Thomas is, at this point, willing to go and die with Christ. That is more than the others seem to be ready to do.
The next time we meet Thomas it is in the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples have just eaten their last supper together. Judas has left their company to begin his egregious journey of betrayal. It is at this point that Jesus unveils his heart as he speaks openly to his friends. He tells them that he will not be with them much longer. Then he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4). At this point Thomas has had all he can take. He nearly shouts in frustration, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” And Jesus’ simple reply is, “I am the way...” Thomas is silenced, but his mind is still whirling with objections and arguments.
I have known many people like Thomas. Their minds are filled with debates and disagreements. Questions are more important than answers. Even when you present the most rational arguments possible it does not satisfy them. They believe their objections to be insurmountable. They would feel dishonest by bringing closure to their quest. They feel that continuous interrogation is an inseparable part of honesty. To accept an answer to a query would betray intellectual inquiry. They shun what they think of as “easy believism.” The problem is that they are on a continuous quest, but never coming to a place of discovery. They are always seeking, but never finding. Always asking, but never receiving.