It’s not a pleasant experience to have doubts in the Christian walk.
Doubt, to some degree or other, is a universal Christian experience, unless of course you have perfect Christian faith – and no one does! We probably don’t talk about our doubts enough, perhaps thinking that everyone else in church is ‘sorted’ or that we will be ‘shamed’ if we express doubts about things we are supposed to believe.
Some people are plagued with doubts. For others, they might come only for a season. And they can come for all kinds of different reasons. Bitter experiences in our lives, such as the death of a loved one, or disappointed hopes might leave us doubting God’s love. Or we might have more of an intellectual doubt – we just cannot grasp how something the Bible says is true. Perhaps we don’t think God is being fair. Or perhaps we doubt the Bible is really God’s Word.
Is there any hope for doubters? Yes, there is. In John 20, we have in Thomas a man who moves from a place of doubt to a place of faith. He illustrates the truth that there is indeed hope for those who doubt.
At the beginning of the account, Thomas hears the eyewitness testimony of 10 of his friends who are all telling him the same amazing truth – Jesus is alive! Were they in the business of lying to him? But this evidence was not enough for Thomas. He says: ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ (John 20:25)
Thomas wants more. He wants to be able to see and touch Jesus for himself. He has his own conditions for belief which he wants to be met.
1. An absent Thomas
When Jesus had first appeared to the disciples, exactly a week before on the first Lord’s Day, Thomas had been absent. Now, we don’t know why he wasn’t there with all the others. Perhaps he had a good reason, and perhaps he did not. Either way, it remains a fact that because he was not there, he missed out on the blessing of seeing the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and his faith suffered as a result.
‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:17)
For us, we should want to be gathered with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day as that is one of the crucial ways in which we hear the Word of Christ. If we are irregular in church, and just come when we feel like it, then there will be many blessings we shall miss out on, and our faith will suffer.
2. A doubting Thomas
Should Thomas have believed the testimony of his friends? Yes, he should have! They had been his close friends for 3 years. He is too quick to dismiss what they are saying to him. He’s forgotten the repeated promise of Jesus, that he would rise again on the 3rd day. And rather than listening to the evidence, he lays out his own conditions which will need to be met if he is to believe.
We can be more like Thomas that we might think, in our times of doubting. We might have something we are genuinely struggling with, but we just don’t listen to others, and focus instead on our thoughts and the criteria we feel ought to be met.
But don’t let your doubts dominate your thinking. Don’t let them take over, like weeds in an unkept garden. We must be balanced in our thinking, and remember the things which we know to be true.
These are the plants in the garden – the good things.
We know God loved the world so much that he sent his Son.
We know Jesus is a historical figure.
We know the Bible is an incredible well-attested document.
We know there were hundreds of witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus.
Yes, there will always be weeds in the garden, and we’ll never get rid of them all until Heaven.
And yes, God hasn’t told us everything we might like to know.
But he has told us so much. He has told us enough.
Don’t believe your doubts and doubt your beliefs. Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.
3. A patient Jesus
How encouraging it is to see the patience of Jesus shining through this passage. He doesn’t come and shame Thomas for his struggles. He comes in order to strengthen faith. Yes, it’s true that Thomas ought to have believed the testimony of the other disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus meets with Thomas at his point of need, and even invites him to put his hand into Jesus’ side.
If you are struggling with unbelief this truth might well warm your heart today – Jesus was patient with Thomas and he will be patient with you.
Alisa Childers (in a Gospel Coalition article) gives some helpful advice about doubt:
‘We can doubt toward God, or we can doubt away from him. If you’re struggling with doubt, I encourage you to doubt toward God. If you can’t think of what to pray, pray like the great men of faith who came before you:
a) Ask for help
b) Ask for reassurance
c) Ask for evidence.’
3. A worshipping Thomas
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
In some ways, these words are the climax of the whole of the gospel of John. And they come from a man who struggled with his doubts; there is hope for you if you doubt!
Notice how personal this statement of faith is: my Lord and my God. There’s far more to Thomas than doubting – here’s the Thomas we should emulate. Can you bow before Jesus today and say with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’?
This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian – we worship King Jesus.
5. A blessing for us
All these years on, Jesus speaks very directly to each one of us: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ (John 20:29)
I have never seen Jesus. You have never seen Jesus. And yet we believe in him, in large part because of the testimony of the apostles, who wrote down all that they had seen and heard. Jesus knows we’ll never have the chance to see him physically this side of eternity, and so he encourages us, and lets us know there is great blessing for those who trust in God’s Word.
It’s not that we have no evidence, but that the evidence is the eyewitness accounts in God’s Word. For us, faith does not come by sight, but by hearing from the Word of God. And that’s the whole reason John has written these facts down for us! That’s why he records what has happened – because he wants us to come to faith by hearing them: ‘But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ (John 20:31)
Do you believe in Christ? That he is the Son of God? That he saves those who repent and believe in him? If you do, right now, you have eternal life. You already have it. What a blessing.