Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
John 20:24-29 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
The disciple Thomas was a realist. He had been hurt and disappointed. He had expected so much from Jesus. Then, to watch him die on the cross like a common thief was too much for Thomas to bear. He had his hopes dashed once. Now he wanted to be careful—the last thing he wanted was another letdown. If Thomas was anything, he was honest—even honest about his doubts. He just couldn’t believe without seeing Jesus for himself. Do you blame him?
We’ve been too hard on Thomas. We’ve given him the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” He’s never called that in the gospels. To place that label on him makes him one-dimensional. People are more interesting and complex than one nickname could ever capture. All of us are interesting and challenging mixtures of anger and love, of joy and sadness, of hope and despair, of faith and doubt.
Not only that, but to call him “Doubting Thomas” is to focus on his doubt, rather than his courage and his ultimate faith.
Back in John 11:16 when Jesus determined to go to Bethany, near Jerusalem when everyone knew it was a dangerous time to go there, it was Thomas, who—with great courage—said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” So, why don’t we call him “Courageous Thomas?”
In John 14, Jesus talks of departing from them to be with God and says, “You know the Way where I am going.” Thomas then says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” It was a good question—to which Jesus answered, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” But, we never call him “Seeking Thomas” or “Curious Thomas.”
Thomas hung in there with the disciples through it all until, tradition has it, Thomas, strong in his faith, carried the Gospel to India. I was in seminary with a student who was a member of the Thomist Church of India, which holds to the tradition that the church in India was founded by Thomas. Yet, we don’t call him “Missionary Thomas” or “Evangelizing Thomas.”
The only nickname the gospels give him is Thomas the Twin, but we have placed on him a big scarlet letter D for Doubt and that—we have said—sums up Thomas.
This is truly strange, considering that doubt is simply a part of faith. Name any prominent person of faith and that person has had their doubts.
Poor Thomas has had to walk the corridors of history known as “Doubting Thomas” and as if that weren’t bad enough, that label for Thomas has made it hard on Christians through the ages. Who wants to be saddled with that nickname?
Down through the ages, we in the Church have often dismissed or discounted doubts and questions as the products of an immature faith. Sometimes in our conviction that we possess some of the answers, we act as though we have all of the answers. Someone has said that the three least used words in our religious vocabulary are, “I don’t know.” The problem is that if we’re not careful we’ll rob faith of its humanness. The important truth is that doubt is a part of our faith walk, our faith journey, our life of faith.
When our goal is to purge doubt from faith, then certainty has become our god. When the fear of doubt motivates us, certainty becomes the false god that promises to deliver us from that fear, but can never deliver on the promise.
The Good News is that doubt can actually be beneficial to us. How?
Doubt stimulates us and spurs us on to faith. My favorite statement about doubt comes from Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking, he wrote: “If you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
Doubt is not the opposite of Faith, but a part of it. As the poet Tennyson put it: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
Doubt keeps us from being gullible. It seems to me that we could use a good, healthy dose of Thomas’s skepticism. It almost seems that today we are ready to believe anything that comes down the pike…and the weirder the better. I am continually amazed at the wild things people believe nowadays: from magic pyramids to crystals to channeling to QAnon conspiracy theories.
When it comes right down to it, doubt can ultimately strengthen our faith. It seems clear to me that God intended for us to struggle with the great questions of life. It may be that such a struggle is essential to a strong, mature faith. Like the struggle of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon strengthens its wings to take flight, it is the struggle with doubt, that process of working through doubt, which can strengthen us in our faith.
So, when you’re in doubt, what do you do? We learn some things from Thomas:
Don’t suppress or repress honest doubts. Thomas voiced his serious doubts about Jesus’ resurrection.
Stay involved with other Christians. Thomas continued to remain in the midst of the company of the disciples. Thomas teaches us that we ought to stay connected with a community of faith.
Continue to seek Christ and faith in Christ. We learn from Thomas that you have to keep after it. Keep asking. Keep questioning. Keep seeking. Keep connected. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7)
It’s that perseverance that is the key to moving through those periods of doubt in our lives.
The Good News of our faith is that doubt has its place and that it’s okay for us to be in those periods of doubt. And that doubt is something that we move through, it is not a destination, but it is place along the way that can make us stronger. It can make us more connected. Thomas came to that place in his life, where when Jesus appeared to the disciples again, Thomas was there and Jesus gave him the opportunity to do the very thing Thomas said he had to do, stick his fingers in the wound, his hand in the side. And yet there is no record that Thomas needed to do that after all. Thomas simply responded, “My Lord and my God,” one of the great affirmations of faith in the New Testament. Because Thomas had walked through the doubt, he became a person of deep faith.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster