At some point or other, we are all afflicted by doubt. That includes even the most fervent of believers. Author William R. White tells the story of Hans, a European seminary professor devastated by the death of his wife, Enid. Hans was so overcome with sorrow that he lost his appetite and didn’t want to leave the house. Out of concern, four of his colleagues paid Hans a visit. The grieving professor confessed to them that he was struggling with doubt. “I am no longer able to pray to God,” he admitted. “In fact, I am not certain I believe in God anymore.”
Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps pain or tragedy rocked your world and left you questioning everything you ever knew to be true.
That’s exactly what occurred in the life of Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He started out a strong believer. Jesus chose him, trained him, and sent him out to preach the good news and to drive out demons. Thomas trusted Jesus so strongly, that in John 11:16, he urged the other disciples to follow Jesus, no matter the cost, even if it meant they died with him.
Yet when Jesus died as he promised he would, it wrecked Thomas. Thomas was not at the cross. Thomas was not at Jesus’ burial. Thomas was not with the disciples when Mary Magdalene brought news of Jesus’ resurrection. Additionally, Thomas was not present when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples a second time (John 20:19—23). It seems Thomas had withdrawn and isolated himself from the spiritual family he had given his life to.
So, make no mistake, Thomas’ doubt was profound. John 20:25 describes how Thomas emphatically demanded to see and touch Jesus’ wounds. Only then would he choose to believe that Jesus was alive.
Thomas’ request reveals something important: Doubt is dangerous if it becomes disbelief. There is a difference between doubt as a sincere searching for meaning and truth as opposed to a hardened doubt that digs its heels in. Let me explain the difference. The renowned philosopher and theologian Pierre Abelard once stated that “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.” Abelard was describing the kind of doubt in which a person says “I am unsure about something, so I want to research it further.” Let’s take Thomas for example. If he had said, “I am struggling to accept that Jesus rose from the dead so I want to investigate it further: I want to see the empty tomb, I want to talk with Mary Magdalene,” etc., that is a healthy kind of doubt.
However, in John 20, Thomas did not demonstrate an inquisitive doubt. Instead, he demonstrated skepticism, even cynicism. His doubt had turned into a faith position: disbelief. We know he felt this way for three reasons: First off, the original language indicates that Thomas used a double negative to express himself, meaning his words were strong and unequivocal: he literally said “by no means will I believe.” Secondly, Thomas put conditions on his belief: “unless I see and touch his wounds, I refuse to believe.” He would only believe under HIS terms. It is interesting to note that no one else in the entire New Testament made such a preposterous demand. Thirdly, he rejected the testimony of his ten best friends. Remember, Thomas had spent the last three years of his life with these men. You would think he would have readily believed them. But when the disciples told him “Jesus is alive, we have seen him!” Thomas dismissed their testimony.
So it’s clear that Thomas had drifted into a dangerous kind of doubt: disbelief. What about you? Do you have doubts about the Christian Faith? If so, where do you fall on this continuum: are you more investigating or more cynical?
In conclusion, the first step to overcoming doubt is to IDENTIFY its nature. If your doubt is inquisitive, there is hope of working through it. However, if your doubt is more cynical and disbelieving, that’s hard to overcome because you have dug your heels in and taken a faith position.
In part two of this article, we will identify the second step to overcoming doubt. Until then, please stay tuned in and God bless you in your search for faith!