24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord! But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” John 20:24-25
The Biblical account we will focus our spiritual radar on today is famously known as the chronicle of “doubting” Thomas. Many scholars of all theological persuasions have commented that the description of the account of what happened isn’t fair to Thomas, and it doesn’t do justice to the story. A careful look at the translation of the word “doubt” in the original Greek does not appear anywhere in the story. In Verse 27b, a more accurate translation of “Do not doubt but believe,” is “Do not be unbelieving.”
The account of “Unbelieving Thomas” has always been one of my favorites. Of course, it’s not just a narrative about Thomas. It’s also an eyewitness account about a group of frightened disciples. So, scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the horrible, humiliating death of Jesus Christ the one they confessed to being the Messiah. They stood by helpless as He was betrayed by one of his own, Judas, one of the most famous traitors in history. They witnessed the most lopsided, miscarriage of justice trial in history that the Jewish religious leaders quickly put together in the dead of night. This mock trail pulled together in a matter of hours had Jesus tried and convicted by both Jewish religious leaders and Roman civil authorities. From there they took this innocent man and had him brutally beaten and executed between two actually guilty criminals.
Stop for a moment and put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. It is little wonder they were afraid? If they could do this to Jesus as popular as He was with the crowds, and did nothing but improve the lives of those He came in contact with, then what is next? What would those same people who had Jesus killed have in mind for His followers? Logic would dictate that next they round up Jesus’ followers and snuff out the movement. In the midst of all this fear and uncertainty. Jesus reappears alive on the scene, their fears are sweep away and are replaced by unbridled joy.
Just the way you imagined faith to work, right? Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy, wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the way it works with Thomas nor the way it works for us, either. He is uncertain. He questions. He disbelieves. He has a moment of shaken faith. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life. Why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors. It is possible he is thinking it is time to get back to the grind of life and restart my career that was placed on hold as I chased after this charismatic Rabbi. But Thomas is not alone in his questioning. He joins a long list of those who struggled to believe.
♣ Epicurus– Greek Philosopher” -Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
♣ Stan Lee, Comic Artist”- Q: Is there a God? A: Well, let me put it this way… [Pauses.] No, I’m not going to try to be clever. I really don’t know. I just don’t know.”- Onion AV Club Article, Oct. 9, 2002
♣ Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft”- Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”- Time Magazine – January 13, 1996
- Heidi Klum, Model”- I believe I have a healthy common sense and therefore have no need for religion.”- Vogue (Germany), June 2009
♣ Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek”- We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”- Free Inquiry, Autumn 1992
Some Questions to Ponder this season after Easter:
Does doubt mean faith is not working properly?
Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubt and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. Perhaps if this is the opportunity before us this week, I want to provide the same opportunities for the many Thomases sitting in our churches and traveling this journey of life and faith.
Why Are We Here Questioning?
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the Messiah, the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verballing challenging the religious institution, and raising the dead. He shook up the world. He was on this path to greatness. And in a week’s time from His triumphant march into Jerusalem to Good Friday, everything is brought to a screeching halt. Jesus was incredible. He should have been their greatest Earthly King.
The disciples find themselves in this odd place. Their world has been rocked, and their faith was shaken to the core with one horrendous weekend turn of events. Their leader had been crucified. He died a death without honor, one reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no Messianic king. And would display that fact publicly on one of the most traveled roads for all the world to see. Israel would see their king dangling above the crowds on a cross on a hill placed between two thieves. With a sign above his head declaring to the crowds who once followed and cheered him, here is your King. Bow down and worship him now!
The followers of this disgraced king now spent their frightened saturated moments huddled together in a room filled with fear and anxiety concerned at the pending retribution of those who have unfinished business. They wanted to wipe any memory of this Jesus of Nazareth off the face of the earth. The religious leaders will move swiftly to destroy this grass roots movement of the man from Galilee.
This fear was thick and tangible. Surrounding everyone, and filling each word and look.
We know this fear. Every single day we have very valid reasons to be afraid. Whether that fear comes from the senseless crimes that happen too often innocent bystanders. To the fact that many of us are just one pay check away from financial ruin. That fear could be due to the knowledge that there are dangerous people in the world with a different belief system who seek to terrorize us. There are many trapped with social anxiety that leads to the fear and reality of isolation. No matter what it is you are afraid of many people are living in fear. And that fear can cause us to struggle with unbelief and doubt of the existence of God. But let’s redirect here and ponder this.
Is there a place in our pews for the Thomas’s of the world?
So, here’s what I’m wondering a day or two, after a joyous Easter service: do we make room for the Thomases in our world? I remember as a teen when in religious instruction class that one teen brave enough to raise his hand and dares question “is this all real?”, only to be quickly shut down. There is no room for doubt, “Stop doubting and believe” we were told. I suspect that there are those among with us this Sunday that struggle with the Thomas syndrome. Who need a little bit more than, “Stop doubting and believe.” Some followers who would like a little hard evidence, maybe even a personal appearance of Jesus.
Ponder this questions until we address on the next post how we deal with doubt:
What is that fear that is pushing faith to the back of your heart?
The cure to dealing with doubt: