‘Doubters’… We read their stories in the Bible and, if we’re honest, they make us feel better about our own faith. But that’s only the case because of two things – 1)we don’t, or won’t, recognize our own doubts and lack of faith, and 2)we don’t fully understand their stories. Let’s take a look at some famous ‘doubters’ and why their faith was greater than ours is.
The disciple Thomas is the most famous doubter in the Bible. He’s even gotten the nickname ‘Doubting Thomas’ over the years. His doubt story is well-known (John 20:24-29). Thomas wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw Jesus with his own eyes, and touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. Jesus appeared to him and satisfied his doubts, and Thomas praised him.
But let’s examine Thomas’ doubt a bit more closely… It’s easy to think that Thomas shouldn’t have doubted Jesus’ power over death on the grounds that he had already seen it at least once before (John 11:1-43). But there’s a key difference between the story in John 11 and Jesus’ resurrection – Jesus was dead. Thomas, like many others, rightly believed that Lazarus had been raised by Jesus’ power in John 11. So it would seem pretty natural, after learning of Jesus’ death on the cross, that Thomas would think that it wasn’t possible for anyone to be raised from the dead again.
But (like Gideon) once his doubts were answered, Thomas never looked back. In fact, there is a tradition that Thomas carried the Gospel farther than any other apostle, all the way to India. (To be fair, there is an equally strong tradition that Thomas was buried in Edessa, a city in modern day Turkey. This would either mean that Thomas actually ministered there, or that his remains were brought all the way there from India when he died. That his remains were brought there from India by a merchant is supported in many ancient traditions.)
But let’s look at an even clearer indication of Thomas’ faith – from that same story in John 11. Jesus tells his disciples that he is returning to Judea. The disciples politely remind Jesus that they had been there a few days before and people had wanted to kill Jesus. A brief conversation ensues in which Jesus eventually tells them of Lazarus’ death. Then Thomas drops the faith-bomb. Believing, like the rest of the disciples, that Jesus will be killed if he returns to Judea, Thomas says to the others, “Let’s go, too – and die with Jesus” (John 11:16).
Doesn’t that throw Thomas into a different light? ‘Doubting Thomas’ was the one disciple who showed a willingness to follow Jesus into a situation that he had every reason to believe would result in his death.
What about me and you? Would we follow Jesus into downtown Tehran, Iran, for instance? Or some other place where being white, Christian, and American is like the holy trinity of reasons that someone would want to kill you? Would you or I be willing to stare death in the face to follow Jesus, or would we try to find some way out, some other thing we could do and still call ourselves faithful?