Week 7: Thomas’s Doubt

Pages 210 – 215, Arms Open Wide: A Call to Linger in the Savior’s Presence

This Week’s Scripture:

“But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe….”

Click HERE to read John 20:24-29 on BibleGateway.com

Sometimes, Thomas’s story is too much for me. It is too honest. Too intimate. Too…. raw. The things Thomas says and does in his grief hit too close to home.

Thomas is one of those people who is simply unable to indulge in pretense. He can’t play nice or put a cheery spin on it all. Thomas, bless him, can’t fake faith. When the worst happens, Thomas has no choice but to look it straight in the eye, take it for what it is, and slug through to the other side.

And it can get really dark in the middle of that process. Maybe that is part of the reason he self-isolated while the other disciples gathered together to draw strength from each other in the horrible wake of Jesus’s crucifixion. Perhaps he knew his no-nonsense grief would be too much for the others.

I think people like Thomas (and me) also just need quiet and space to work through the painful places, and so, we withdraw. Turn inward. Face the darkness painfully alone.

If you have anything in common with Thomas and me, and you grew up in the Christian faith, his story may have been painful for you to hear. All I ever heard about Thomas in church was deeply shaming. Preachers held him up as the example of shameful weakness.

“Don’t be a doubting Thomas,” they said.

But I knew the truth. I was a doubting Thomas. It made perfect sense to me that if I watched someone I love die on a cross, and someone showed up at my house saying, “Awesome news! He’s alive!” I would, like Thomas, need some proof.

Thomas’s Proof

Thomas demands something that feels shocking. He says that before he believes in Jesus’s resurrection, he wants to put his hands in the wounds on his hands and in his side.

It seems to me, that when we read that, it is easy to miss the point. Thomas didn’t have some callous need to physically touch the suffering of Christ. Instead, it was something like this-

“I saw his suffering. I heard his screams as the soldiers drove the nails into his arms. For hours, and hours, I stood in horror as he strained against the nails, gasping for breath. Then, I watched as the moments between breaths lengthened, then stopped completely, because he could no longer find the strength to lift himself up to get a breath. Then, I saw the guards come and pierce his side with a sword to ensure he was, indeed, dead. And now, you want me to believe he is alive? I saw the wounds. No, I can’t bear to hope. Before I believe, I will have to see him breathing in front of me, and see those wounds again for myself, healed.”

And that made perfect sense to me. Who wouldn’t feel that way?

I know all of that dogpiling on “Doubting Thomas” made for a great sermon. I mean, it always feels so good to point out and condemn the failings of others, mainly because it allows us to not look at our own problems. But, the preachers left out a few other points too. Like-

  • The other disciples, the ones who believed, had already seen the resurrected Christ. They had their proof. Thomas was simply asking for the same thing. (John 20:25)
  • Thomas may have been a no-nonsense guy who called things like he saw them, but he was incredibly loyal in the face of hard truths. When Jesus was determined to go back to Jerusalem where the religious leaders were clearly out to kill him, this is what Thomas said- “Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).”
  • When Thomas finally saw the resurrected Christ, he demonstrated remarkable faith.

Doubting Thomas’s Remarkable Faith

Poor Thomas had to wait a week for his chance to see Jesus for himself. I can’t imagine how long that felt. He joined the other disciples and they waited together behind locked doors for fear they would face crucifixion next as known friends of Jesus. They must have wrestled against the fear of the unknown.

How will it all turn out?

Will everything be okay?

When will this be over?

Then one day, Jesus just showed up. Thomas finally got his chance.

Jesus looked at him and offered him the terms of his proof. (Which, by the way, means Jesus was there alongside Thomas, unseen, through all of those dark doubting days.)

““Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe (John 20:26).”

I believe this was done with great tenderness, not condemnation. Try reading it aloud, and as you do, do so with the voice you would use to comfort a terrified child.

Wow. Doesn’t that change things?

Then, Thomas does something amazing. He not only no longer needed that proof, he became the first of the disciples to proclaim the resurrected Christ as someone more than a friend or rabbi. Thomas saw him for who he was- the very Son of God.

“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28)”

God Has Compassion for You When You Doubt

God could have left Thomas’s story out of the Bible, but he didn’t. I believe he included it because he wanted us to know he doesn’t condemn us when we doubt, or fall under the weight of a life that feels too hard. He wants us to know he never abandons us because we aren’t good enough, strong enough, or brave enough. He is right there beside us in the dark, speaking peace over us, and loving us.

And man, did I need to hear that today.

What about you?

Think About It

  • Find a quiet place, somewhere where you can be comfortable and feel safe. Now, write out the fears and doubts you feel in this moment in a prayer to the God who never leaves you. Ask Jesus to speak peace to you and comfort you in those things.
  • Sometimes, it helps to remind ourselves of what we know. Try keeping a running list of something you know for sure. Maybe it is a list of scripture verses that have brought you peace in the past. Perhaps, it is a list of ways God has met your needs or delivered you through the years. Begin your “grateful list” today.

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