What Do We Do with Doubt?
When we don’t trust the people around us, things can fall out of hand quickly, but what if the person you doubt is God? What happens then?
After Jesus died and was resurrected, he showed himself to his disciples, who were hiding from a mob of angry people that wanted to persecute anyone who still followed Jesus. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first showed up—although the others told him Jesus was alive again. But Thomas said, ‘Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.’
Eight days later, the disciples were together again. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors of the room, stood there and said, ‘Peace to you.’ He then turned to Thomas and said, ‘Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.’
At this, Thomas said, ‘My Master! My God!’ And Jesus said, ‘So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.’
Bold, loyal and questioning
Thomas had travelled with Jesus, he’d watched Jesus make blind men see and crippled men walk, and he’d only just seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.
Lazarus hadn’t just flatlined and quickly been resuscitated like Jesus was a doctor on some ancient Jewish Shortland Street. Lazarus had been dead for so long he’d been sealed in a tomb for four days! Yet Jesus had them roll the stone away, said a prayer and Lazarus jumped out. And it didn’t stop there! Six days before Jesus’s crucifixion, Lazarus joined Jesus in Jerusalem for a meal. Thomas sat down to eat alongside someone who’d been dead for four days—just nine days before Thomas then doubted that Jesus could also have been raised from the dead.
When we look at Thomas in other parts of the Bible, we see he wasn’t an unreliable disciple. When he was with Jesus, he was bold, he was courageous, and he knew when the right choice needed to be made. When Jesus wanted to travel to Jerusalem (partly because he wanted to bring Lazarus back to life), the disciples thought it might be too dangerous (because people wanted to kill Jesus for saying he was God’s son). But Thomas says, ‘Come along. We might as well die with him!’ Even though Thomas doubts and needs convincing sometimes, he is extremely loyal to Jesus. That’s part of who he was.
Thomas also liked to ask questions. While the other disciples take Jesus’ teaching as is, Thomas is the one always asking for more detail, more information, more evidence. When Jesus talks about going ahead of the disciples to get a place ready for them in Heaven, Thomas asks for more information. In John 14:5, Thomas asks, ‘Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the way?’
To which Jesus replies, ‘I am the Way, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!’ Jesus isn’t disappointed that Thomas needed more evidence and more information.
Thomas has to wait
The cool thing about Jesus is when he appears to Thomas, casually waltzing through a locked door, he doesn’t say, ‘I have risen from the dead, behold me and believe!’ He doesn’t say, ‘Look that I can get through locked doors, believe in me!’ He doesn’t say, ‘Remember all those people I healed and that guy I brought back to life? Believe in me!’ No, Jesus knows that in his time of doubt, Thomas had said, ‘Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.’ So that’s exactly what Jesus lets Thomas do.
But before this evidence came, Thomas had to wait. When Thomas cried out from his doubt, Jesus did not appear then and there to prove himself. Jesus took his time with Thomas—and sometimes he takes his time with us. For God, this was the perfect time to answer Thomas’ questions. Not the minute after Thomas had cried out, not 20 years on, but eight days later.
This is sometimes the hardest thing for us, when we doubt God and call out to him so show himself … and we are met by silence. I’ve had it happen to me and it honestly sucks—there is no other way to describe it.
When we doubt
What can we do when we feel like doubting God? One idea is keep a prayer journal. Now, we pray all the time. We pray for big things like what asking God what he wants us to do in our lives, and we pray for smaller thing like having good weather so we can go tramping and to remember stuff in exams. But have you ever actually stopped and thought about how many of these prayers have been answered? You might be surprised!
I was talking to my corps officer (pastor) about this and he said, ‘In times of doubt, focus on what God has done, not what he hasn’t done.’ If we keep a record of God’s answered prayers, it gives us a way to see exactly how God has moved in our lives.
Another idea is to surround ourselves with people who also follow God. After Jesus’ death, Thomas isolated himself from the other disciples. So when Jesus appeared to them, Thomas missed out. If you’re doubting God, surround yourself with people who are 100 per cent set on God. They will listen to you, answer your questions, tell you about their experiences with God and remind you God is still out there.
And, thirdly, sometimes all we have to do is ask. Thomas said, ‘Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.’ And so Jesus let Thomas do just that! If you’re doubting God, maybe it’s time to pray and ask God to reveal himself to you.
God may not show up straight away, but just like with Thomas, God is listening and will answer your prayer at the time that is best for you. Then you’ll be able to look back and remember: I prayed and my God answered.
So, be bold, be brave and be like Thomas. And call out to God!