Why I Love Doubting Thomas
By Beth Demme
When you hear the story of “Doubting Thomas” do you think of him as a failure or do you feel an affinity for him? If you don’t know the details of his story, pause for a minute and read how he got his nickname at John 20:19-31.
On the one hand, I feel compelled to argue for a new nickname for Thomas. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18) but we don’t call him “Denying Peter.” Peter also sank after trying to walk on water with Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33), but we don’t call him “Sinking Peter.” Maybe instead of calling him Doubting Thomas, we would do better to call him Believing Thomas or Faithful Thomas or Fruitful Thomas or Just-Like-Me Thomas.
On the other hand, I think we should embrace the nickname “Doubting Thomas” and celebrate it! We should celebrate that Thomas had doubts, and celebrate how Jesus responded.
Why do we make it seem like it’s a bad thing that Thomas doubted? Have you ever had a friend recommend a TV show, a movie, or a book? No matter how detailed and accurate their recommendation is, it’s no substitute for seeing it or reading it for yourself, right?
That’s what really happens to the one we always call “Doubting Thomas.”
Three days after the crucifixion, the resurrected Jesus appears to Thomas’s friends. When Thomas comes back to the house, they can’t wait to tell him about this incredible thing that has happened. Thomas says, “I’ve got to see that for myself!”
The thing is, Thomas isn’t saying anything different than all of the other disciples. It was earlier that day that Mary Magdalene came to them saying, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18). They didn’t take her word for it. Instead, they locked themselves away in a room of their own fear.
Jesus came to them in that locked room, saying “Peace be with you.” When Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side, it was as if they had finally read the book or seen the movie Mary Magdalene had been telling them about; they now knew Christ resurrected.
Thomas, too, needs to see it for himself.
This makes perfect sense to me. The church has been telling people for centuries to just “have faith!” But, really, who among us has faith just because someone told us to? That is a flimsy faith, at best. Our faith is strengthened by conversation with God, by relationship with other believers, by experiencing the work of God in our lives—the work of God in us and on us and through us.
I believe in God because I’ve experienced the joy of having my heart transformed by God’s love, not because someone told me to.
Doubting Thomas doesn’t believe based on what other people tell him. And guess what? This doesn’t bother Jesus. Jesus comes alongside Thomas, undeterred by his doubts. Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God!”
In a way, the whole Bible is the story of God coming to us in our skepticism, again and again.
- When we thought we were beholden to many little “g” gods, God came to us to offer the better way (see e.g., Exodus 12:12).
- When we thought we weren’t worthy, he gave us a sacrificial system we could use to assure ourselves we were worthy in his eyes (see e.g., Leviticus 1:4).
- When we still didn’t believe that God loved us, he became human and died on the cross (Mark 15).
- When, after the resurrection, we locked ourselves away in a room, afraid of what was going to happen, he came to us and breathed the Holy Spirit into us and offered us his peace (John 20:19-22).
- When, a week later, we were still locked away in that room, he came back (John 20:26-31).
He comes back again and again, in so many ways. In ways that are as unique as each of us. That’s just what Jesus did for Thomas. Jesus came to Thomas in the way Thomas needed. Following that encounter, Thomas testifies to the truest of all true things, calling Jesus “my Lord and my God.”
What about you? Have you lived with doubt? Did God come to you in those doubts? Was your faith stronger for it? Did you declare “my Lord and my God”? Tell me about it in the comments, in an email, or on Facebook.
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