DOUBT AND FAITH: Wrestling with Scripture #8
The more I study the Bible, the more I question some of my beliefs. That’s when I remind myself doubt is okay. It’s not the opposite of faith—unbelief is—so I’m willing to let doubt be the motivator that pushes me toward an honest, deeper search for truth. Let’s see what Scripture says.
The Bible uses various words for doubt. Meanings range in degree from being perplexed (diapŏrĕō), to wavering between two ideas (distazō), or to thoroughly separating or withdrawing from a position (diakrinō). I think the first two are normal and even healthy for anyone with a desire to grow deeper in their understanding of the Word, while the last would be disastrous for a believer.
To dig deeper, let’s study the account in John 20:19-29 involving the Apostle Thomas. These eleven verses earned the infamous nickname of “Doubting Thomas” to a man Jesus handpicked to spread the Good News. Thomas is also called Didymus (John 20:24), a Hebrew word that means “twin.” I recall a message about his “two-sidedness” which concluded by saying Thomas lost his battle with his dual nature–flesh and spirit—when he rejected the apostles’ report of the resurrection. Another pastor stated Thomas wasn’t doubting but willfully rebelling against God because of his emphatic statement in John 20:25: “Unless I see … I will not believe.”
The Greek word translated “not believe” is the negative form of pistĕuō, which we looked at last week, and literally means Thomas refused to entrust himself to what the disciples said. Does that mean he was rejecting Jesus or simply skeptical of their claims?
I think Thomas got a bad rap. After all, when Mary Magdalene told the disciples she had seen the risen Jesus, Mark 16:11 records: “they refused to believe it.” Were the disciples also guilty of doubting the resurrection or simply unwilling to put full confidence in her testimony without additional verification? I find it interesting that John says the disciples rejoiced when Jesus appeared to them but only after He showed them His hands and side—the very proof Thomas later insisted on.
Jesus made extraordinary claims about who He was but backed them up with indisputable evidence—a host of public miracles. When the other disciples urged Jesus not to return to Judea because of the danger, it was Thomas who declared, “Let us all go then, and die with him.” This doesn’t sound like a man who lacked faith. Instead, it sounds like a man willing to entrust his very life to Jesus, because he had great confidence in Him based on the evidence he’d seen.
Some might argue that a faith which requires “proof” is not really faith. Since 2 Corinthians 5:7 teaches “… we walk by faith, not by sight,” shouldn’t Christians, especially post-Pentecost believers led by the Holy Spirit, believe without any need for evidence?
But does God really expect us to have blind, unquestioning faith? After all, He designed the human brain to process and analyze data. Since we are told to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, I believe He wants us to search the Scriptures, where we’ll find sufficient evidence to construct a rational and coherent belief system. Only then we can “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you,” (1 Peter 3:15-17).
In the NT, one word translated “evidence” is the Greek word ĕlĕgchŏs meaning “that which is clear, obvious, or evident.” God wants our faith to be certain. Hebrew 11:1 declares “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” and Jesus Himself said to believe that God sent Him or to “…at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves,” (John 14:11).
Notice how Jesus reacted to Thomas’ doubts. Although He tells him to not be unbelieving (faithless), He doesn’t rebuke or condemn Thomas as He did the Pharisees. When they demanded evidence of who He was, Jesus—knowing their hard hearts—said He would give them no sign but the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29). In contrast, after letting Thomas wrestle with his sincere questions for eight days, Jesus made a second appearance, offering Thomas the evidence he needed to believe, and Thomas responded immediately with worship, acknowledging Jesus with one of the boldest statements of faith in the Bible, “My Lord, and my God.”
Have you ever wondered why Scripture mentions Thomas was a twin but provides no other information? One commentator suggested it’s meant as a reminder of another set of Biblical twins, Jacob and Esau. Esau was unbelieving, hard-hearted, and perished. Jacob was open-minded, wrestled honestly with his doubt, and saw God.
Finally, why do you think Thomas didn’t believe the disciples’ claims about the resurrection? They were his friends. He’d known them all intimately for at least three years. It makes me think that these men—hiding in a locked room, afraid to be associated with Christ, fearful of persecution, arrest, or death—lacked credibility for someone seeking truth about eternal life. Perhaps to witness effectively to the lost, our words and deeds must provide them with evidence for our testimony, or our Truth will sound to them like empty words.