Doubt gets a bad rap. We live in a world where we are not supposed to doubt, it is unhealthy—bad. Doubts, though, are like confrontations, which also have a bad rap. However, it is in confrontations that change can happen. Sometimes my wife needs to confront me, and at that point there is a back and forth until eventually one of us realizes our error (or often we both do) and we change. Today—we are so afraid of confrontations—we don’t have them. In a Facebook generation we just unfriend, ignore or avoid—but then we are depriving ourselves and others of possibly growing.
Doubts are the same way. We often are afraid of them—or we don’t deal with them—but then we never grow. In fact they may actually help. How do I know? Look at the famous, but often misunderstood biblical story of Doubting Thomas often used to illustrate how it is wrong to doubt. It can be found at the end of the Book of John.
What does Jesus do when he approaches Thomas here? Two things: First, he calls him out for doubting clear evidence—the other apostles eyewitness accounts. Most people highlight this aspect of the story. However, the second thing Jesus does is actually gives into the demands of Thomas! Thomas demands to see Jesus, his pierced hands and side, and then Jesus—after rebuking Thomas, actually gives him exactly what he demands. Why would he do that?
Jesus is trying to keep Thomas, as well as the listener from falling into one of two camps prevalent in ancient and modern culture. The first camp can be called the blind faith camp. This group of people thinks doubts are the enemy of faith. That blind faith camp never questions their faith, never ask hard questions, and never seeks answers for when doubts rise up. They say that the definition of faith, is you don’t know, so stop trying to ask questions and just believe. There is almost a fear if that if you do ask questions then you will lose your faith.
The second camp out there is what I call the persistent cynicism camp. These are individuals who try to poke holes in everything and mock all truth statements, and undermine all claims of purpose. I know these people exist because I was one of them. Whose to say what is true? What is true for you is true for you, but what is true for me is true for me. In some respects these people are committed to the belief that there is no belief—there is nothing else out there.
Through his actions, Jesus wants to avoid both extremes. Notice he rebukes Thomas not for doubting in general—but for doubting clear evidence from his friends. In other words, he was in the
persistent cynicism camp. He was not seeking or trying to find answers, he made a blanket statement and he was not going to budge. However, on the other hand—Jesus actually gives into his demands, and validates and even answers Thomas’ demands. So it seems, from a fresh reading of the passage, doubts are not necessarily the enemy of faith, only if they stay in a persistent state of cynicism.
In fact, they may actually boost a faith/trust paradigm. How does Thomas respond after Jesus shows him the evidence? All the gospels have Jesus trying to show others who he really is, but the one person who confesses Jesus’ full nature is Thomas! No other human being had a higher view of Jesus than Thomas. In verse 28 he says, “My Lord and My God.” This is a personal expression of intimate relationship that is accomplished through processing doubts. So use them, search them, and build off them.