Skeptic’s quest

The Risen Christ didn't rebuke doubting Thomas

Apr 10, 2017 by

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Thomas, the doubting disciple, doesn’t make the list of biblical role models. But he deserves a second look. Scripture’s most famous skeptic has something to teach us about faith and doubt. The disciple who insisted on seeing Jesus’ wounds for himself plays a vital role in the story of the Risen Christ.

When Jesus first slipped through the closed doors where the disciples had gathered, Thomas was not with them. He missed out on a joyful reunion (John 20:20) — and the evidence that banished the others’ doubts. So when Thomas refused to believe the Resurrection without proof, he was only asking for the same evidence the others had.

Thomas wasn’t necessarily weaker in faith or less trusting. If any of the other disciples had missed out on Jesus’ first appearance, they might have reacted as he did: I must see for myself.

A week later, Jesus again surprises the disciples behind locked doors. Accepting Thomas’ need for evidence, Jesus invites him to touch the wounds on his hands and side. The Gospel does not say if Thomas did this. It only reports his words, “My Lord and my God!” The doubter believes.

Should we respond to this story by resolving not to be like Thomas? To try very hard to banish any trace of doubt from our mind? To feel guilty about skeptical thoughts?

We may find the answer in the fact that Jesus did not rebuke Thomas but offered the proof he needed. Jesus seems to have understood Thomas’ questioning nature.

Resolution of doubt is harder for us. Jesus is no longer physically present to show us his wounds and say, “Put your finger here; see my hands.” But the Gospel account encourages us to believe that the Risen Christ accepts our questions and uncertainties, just as he did when Thomas doubted.

Thomas was no outlier. Seldom is a journey of faith untouched by doubt. Poets and musicians capture the emotions of this struggle. The 19th-century British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote: “I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope/And gather dust and chaff, and call/To what I feel is Lord of all,/And faintly trust the larger hope. . . ./There lives more faith in honest doubt,/Believe me, than in half the creeds.”

More than a century later, in 1987, the singer Bono of the Irish rock band U2 faced the scorn of evangelicals who thought he had lost his Christian faith because he had written a song about doubt: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Sometimes, he says in the song, we speak with the tongues of angels; other times we hold the hand of the devil. And yet, “I believe in the Kingdom Come/when all the colors will bleed into one. . . ./You broke the bonds/You loosed the chains/You carried the cross and my shame/You know I believe it./But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

A disciple of Jesus, a Victorian-era poet and an Irish rock star each testify that doubt is not the opposite of belief but an integral part of the spiritual quest for many who seek God. Doubt and faith join hands as we reach for a piece of the joy the disciples felt when they met the Risen Christ.


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