Several of Jesus’ disciples are known by the nicknames they either earned or brought with them from their past. Simon became “Peter,” the “rock.” John was most often referred to as “the one Jesus loved.” The other disciple named Simon was “the zealot;” Matthew, was the “tax collector;” and Judas, indeed, was “the betrayer.”
Included in any such list must be Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” as he has been known throughout Christian history. A doubter, Thomas certainly was, but I don’t think he has received a fair shake; for his doubts ultimately drove him to faith. These doubts did not drive him away.
For example, after the resurrection, Christ appeared to his disciples. Thomas was not among them for the visit. So when they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” he refused to believe. Thus, the faithful have forever branded him a skeptic for his suspicious response. Yet, I think we are simply dealing with a man whose experience was much different than the rest of his peers.
Why did the other disciples believe? Because they had an encounter with the risen Christ. In light of this, to call Thomas a doubter simply isn’t fair. He wasn’t being obtuse; he was being true to his own experience. There’s a lesson here: When other people do not believe what we believe, and how we believe it, this does not necessarily make them deficient, ignorant, stubborn, or hard-hearted. Maybe they simply haven’t had the same experience we have had.
So let us deal gently with the “Doubting Thomases” around us. Let’s not try to vanquish their doubts by shoving all our experiential evidence down their throats; assaulting them with philosophical arguments, our systematic defenses and too often condescending claims to have cornered the market on the truth.
We can only testify to what we have experienced and then invite those without such an experience to seek God for themselves. Some, given this invitation, will do exactly that: Seek, question, investigate, and use their doubts as fuel in search of the truth, as Thomas did.
Some days after the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, he appeared again. This time Thomas was with them, a sure sign I think that he was searching, or at least curious. And the first person Jesus goes to is Thomas. Jesus says to him: “See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
It was specifically Thomas’ doubt – his search, his questioning, and speculation – that initiated the visit by Jesus. Doubt did not drive Jesus away; it brought Jesus directly to Thomas in a tangible way! Doubting Thomas responds: “My Lord and my God!” becoming the first and only person in the Gospel accounts to ever call Jesus, “God.”
That is the gift of doubt. It is the delivery room for the most incredible faith to be born into our lives. Maybe, if we all doubted like Thomas, ultimately we would all be led to his great faith.