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We’re told not to doubt, and yet Christians still doubt. Is there something missing from our equation of Christian living? Why do some believers seem to question God’s truth? If we have the faith we say we have, why is doubt still a part of our lives? Even if the action of “doubting” is somewhat different for everyone, I think we all could agree it surrounds our lack of answers for our many questions.
Let’s look at Thomas’s struggle with doubt found in John 20. This story is found just after the other disciples saw Jesus following the resurrection.
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, 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 in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, 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; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, 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 believed.” (John 20:24-29)
Here are four things we can learn from this story:
1. Jesus’ disciples doubted on their journey of belief.
Sometimes we forget this obvious truth. Even though the disciples dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus, it took a while before they actually expressed signs of belief. I’m not actually sure it’s fair to say thoughts of doubt ever left the disciples. There were glimpses of belief, (John 16:29-31) and yet doubt led Judas to take matters into his own hands and betray Jesus,(18:1-11) and led Peter to deny Christ just after he was arrested (18:15-27). We experience faith by processing our doubt over time.
2. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when they saw Jesus.
I almost feel bad for Thomas. The other disciples would clearly believe before he did – they SAW Jesus in person. I think if I were Thomas, I would have been very upset with them and the whole situation. After all, their mentor and teacher had just been crucified and now they were saying they just saw him alive! His doubt was based on something that just didn’t make sense. We have to give ourselves and others some mercy as we process our doubt.
3. Processing doubt takes time.
Scripture specifically states that it was eight days before Thomas had a physical encounter with Jesus. I certainly wouldn’t read into the meaning of eight days; however, some scholars have pointed out that eight people were saved on the ark, and that Jewish boys were circumcised on the eighth day. Perhaps we could loosely identify Thomas’ journey of eight days as a sort of new beginning, just like the eight were saved on the ark (1 Peter 3:20) and the eight days prior to a Jewish boy’s ceremonial covenant (Genesis 17:12; Philippians 3:5).
We could never use this timeframe, however, as an absolute for everyone today. The point is: there’s a journey from the first time we hear about the risen Jesus to when we actually believe. Those “eight days” represent the space we need to process our doubt.
4. The disciples saw with their eyes; we see with our faith.
The disciples had the opportunity to physically witness Jesus with their eyes. Christians today, however, can only experience Jesus with faith. Faith is not seeing Jesus’ nail-scarred hands, and yet allowing His nail-scarred hands to transform us from the inside-out. This kind of transformation is a life-long journey of faith with Jesus. And, according to Jesus, those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29). Because of this dynamic, having faith in Christ requires us to process our doubt so that our faith can guide us in the right direction. Otherwise, without that space, our doubt may actually push us further away from God’s truth.
How do we respond?
I love how Jude simply instructed the early Church: “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). He was helping the Church protect the faith by ensuring that mature believers would help and encourage new believers. Jude knew what it meant to doubt – it took him (and Jesus’ other half siblings) even longer to figure out the faith than it did for Thomas. As a result, we need to respond in one of two ways:
- If we find ourselves doubting:
We need to remember that processing our doubt helps to develop our faith and understanding of God’s truth, and that process takes time. If we continue to mature in the faith, we may not doubt the same things we did yesterday; however, because we’re human, we will experience new doubt tomorrow. The key is allowing for space to process the uncertainty we face.
- If we find ourselves mentoring someone who is doubting:
We need to remember that showing them mercy as they process their doubt will help develop their faith. Unfortunately, we are sometimes quick to put pressure on Christians during this process. I believe if Thomas wasn’t given eight days, he would have been less likely to accept the faith he eventually stood for with his life. We need to show mercy and give space.
Because we live in a world with so much spiritual tension, it’s vital the Church figures out how to manage doubt. John Ortberg calls uncertainty a gift “because it gnaws at us to pursue truth. As hunger prompts our stomach to find food, doubts prompt our minds to find reality.” This, however, takes time. When we doubt God’s truth, we must choose to give ourselves and others the space we need to process our doubt so we can build a stronger faith.
Check out Part 1 of this series – “What is doubt and is it sinful?”
Have you ever doubted God’s truth? How do you process doubt?
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