Monday, April 21, 2014

The Doubting Thomas

Submitted by Kerry Patton

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”  John 20:24-25

Would you believe that one of my earliest remembrances of a Thomas reference was due to a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercial from back in the early 1970’s?  I remember hearing Tony the Tiger say to some kid who wasn’t enthusiastic about breakfast: “Well, Come on, doubting Thomas…Let’s GO!” and connecting that to the stories I had heard I had heard in Sunday School about Thomas doubting that Jesus had come back to life after having died on the cross. There it was: a Biblical reference buried in a cereal commercial.  I wonder how many people caught it, and about the personal faith of whoever wrote the script.

At this moment…I’m wondering about Thomas.  We don’t think about Thomas much except that he was the disciple who had been absent when Jesus had made his first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples as a group.  Because of his not having seen Jesus, Thomas made his now famous proclamation: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails…I will not believe.”  

I am…I’m wondering about Thomas.  I am skeptical that it was merely his missing the reappearance of Jesus that caused him to doubt that it had happened.  I wonder about what else there might have been to have made Thomas skeptical.  What event…what injury?  Was there something in his past, perhaps some other event or person that had been the catalyst for this particular difficulty in believing that the unlikely, the unbelievable (at least to him) resurrection of Jesus had occurred?  Why was Thomas seeming to hedge his bets, so to speak, emotionally after the crucifixion of Jesus. “Until I see his hands…”

Now, before you injure yourself by trying too hard to figure out what had made Thomas such a doubter in that instance, understand that I’m just setting a foundation here for a moment. 
I want you to consider the reality that none of us live in a vacuum.  We are, each of us, who we are because of things we go through…circumstances that we have endured.  There may be a reason why I might have difficulty trusting in relationships, or why you may be cautious in letting your kids go to friend’s houses, or why someone else may even go so far as to doubt that this whole ‘Christianity thing’ is even real!  The Doubting Thomas in each of us may have deep roots that are holding to events that occurred many years ago, or may have happened only days in the past.  The pain and distrust of someone else may seem trivial to you or me, and yet occupy the entire scope of their vision.  There may be a history unknown to you and me…perhaps like Thomas may have had events in his past, that brought him to a crisis of belief in a moment of decision or spiritual crossroads.
“But how do I handle my doubt?  Or how do I help someone else through their doubt?” 
It is interesting in the Biblical account that Jesus did not immediately appear in the moment of Thomas’ struggle to wipe away any doubts that he had.  In fact, verse 26 of chapter 20 of John informs us that eight days later the disciples were gathered together again when Jesus makes another appearance.  What were those eight days like for Thomas?  We don’t know.  Why, in His wisdom, did Jesus remain absent and in some effect leave Thomas sort of hanging in limbo before coming to remove any shadow of a doubt?  We’ll just have to ask when we all get to Glory, I suppose.  Regardless, the fact remains: eight days passed before Thomas gets released.

And then it is peculiar on how Jesus presents himself:  “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas’ response? “My Lord and my God!” I think if there is anything we can glean from this encounter, we miss the point if we focus on affirming Thomas as a cured doubter.  Instead, we come to understand that it is important to cast the doubt aside and choose to believe.  Because the underlying reality here is that it is the encounter with Jesus that removes doubt altogether.  Err on the side of faith. Reach out to Jesus!

Psalm 55:22 instructs: “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you.”  In Mark 9:24, a possessed boy’s desperate father cried out to Jesus: “I do believe; help my unbelief.”  Likewise, in John 14:1 Jesus encourages the reader: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
When dealing with others who struggle with doubt, we don’t plow through their doubt with scolding or shame, but seek to lead them to encounter the real Jesus.  We love them, praying for them and with them.  In our case, we pray and continue to draw faith and strength from the words of our Bible.  Sometimes, there is a wait before they (or we) are ready to finally release doubt and fear.  But there really is a sense in which for doubt to be transformed, it has to move forward.  Essentially, a “Come on doubting Thomas, let’s GO!”  Where each of us individually has to make the decision to open our eyes, reach out and experience the hands and side of Jesus, or place our confidence and faith in Jesus, having never seen and touched.

Frequently, doubt is rooted in experience, and we may have to deal with those emotions…that may take time.  But cast your doubts on the Lord and let Him help you past them. 

Father God, Where are my points of doubt?  You know them. Help me give them to you.  Where others doubt, give me grace.  Make me patient and loving, and wise in helping them to encounter the real Jesus.  Help us Father, to move forward.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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