I preached on John 20 this past Sunday, which includes the well-known story of “Doubting Thomas.” Personally, I think Thomas has gotten a bad rap. Two reasons…
:: O N E ::
People perceive Thomas as a failure because they perceive that doubt = bad. That’s not true. Doubting something can lead you to investigating it and discovering its veracity (or lack thereof) for yourself. Having doubts – even about faith – can actually end up strengthening faith. Thomas’ time of doubt concludes with him confessing to Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). From this famous (or infamous) doubter comes “the greatest confession of the Lord who rose from the dead” (George R. Beasley-Murray’s commentary on John’s Gospel, p. 385). This can be anyone’s experience, assuming you decide to actually wrestle with your doubts. If you say you have doubts about faith but do nothing to work through your doubt, then I’d call it cynicism or flat-out disbelief, not doubt.
Because people perceive doubt = bad, I think many hear disappointment or impatience in Jesus’ words when he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (20:27). I do not believe that accurately captures the tone of Jesus’ voice or the language of His posture. Instead, I see Jesus simply doing what He always does – taking the initiative, doing what it takes to draw, to woo people to Him. So Thomas is not a failure. He serves as part of the picture of what Jesus can and will do to strengthen people in their faith.
:: T W O ::
The other reason Thomas has received a bad rap is because he is often portrayed as the only doubter in the room. It’s only been one short week since the rest of the disciples were in the same room, “the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (20:19). Why were they huddled together in secrecy and fear? They had heard the report of Mary Magdalene, that she had seen the empty tomb and the living Jesus. Why else were they huddled together in secrecy and fear except for the likely reason that they doubted Mary’s report. They, too, wouldn’t believe the report without proof! A week before the events concluding John 20, the room was filled with doubters. In John 20:25, Thomas is the only one doubting now, yet he’s the one we single out and call Doubting Thomas. The poor guy. (Gail R. O’Day writes about this in her commentary on John’s Gospel, pp. 846, 849.)
Personally, I receive comfort in reflecting on how I am in good company when I have doubts, knowing that the very first disciples experienced the same thing – and had their doubts taken seriously and resolved.
”Doubt of Thomas” by modern Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe.