We are familiar with the term “doubting Thomas,” which is derived from the story of Thomas’s unwillingness to believe his friends who told him that while he was absent, they had seen the Risen Christ.
Thomas’s inability to accept the incredible news that Christ had risen should not be a surprise. He needed evidence and remained skeptical of what he had heard. Only when Jesus appeared a second time did he believe and made the confession, “My Lord and my God.” We may think that he should have believed when he heard the news on the first occasion.
One may well ask, what kind of follower or disciple was he? Or, how different is Thomas from us? Did Thomas’s doubt make him any less a follower of Jesus Christ? Jesus did not rebuke him for his unbelief. Rather he spoke of how blessed are those who have not seen but believe. We were not witnesses to Christ’s resurrection either, but through the scriptures and testimonies of many, past and present, today we confess that Christ lives.
As Christians, there are many things we do not understand. We have doubts about our faith and embrace “healthy skepticism,” not because we lack faith or even have a weak faith, but because we’re seeking a deeper understanding. There’s nothing wrong or unusual when one struggles with questions about religious faith.
Thomas was singled out as doubting, but he was not alone. Matthew’s account of another post-resurrection appearance exposed some of the other disciples. The account says that when the Risen Christ himself stood with the eleven on a mountaintop in Galilee, “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). We ought to have the audacity to acknowledge that there are things that we may never understand or believe.
It is a healthy spiritual exercise when Christians wrestle with doubt and uncertainty. It may be said that a faith unquestioned and untested is no faith at all. The poet Lord Tennyson wrote, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
We ought to be wary of making the claim that we know everything that there is to know about God and God’s world. Accepting our limitations is important and healthy. Anne Lamott, the political activist and novelist, wrote, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” Being able to express uncertainty is acceptable as long as we continue to discern God’s purpose and will for us.
It has also been said that “doubt was the essence of faith, and not faith’s opposite.” sermons or what other people say to us help to put things in perspective. They assist us in arriving at a point where we are inclined to believe or become more comfortable with what remains an unfathomable mystery.
Our Christian praxis is not about having faith in faith alone. The Greek word for “faith” (pistis) is a derivative of the word for “persuasion” (peitho). Our faith is not just a mindless, unquestioned acceptance of the things we were taught about God and the Bible. It is a “confidence” grounded in the “evidence” of God’s love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and experienced in our daily lives. In the book of Acts, Paul sings the praises of the Jews of Beroea, who, after hearing him preach, “searched the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
If we are going to grow our faith and make it our own, it will require lots of work. It requires that we, in our own way and at our own pace, become the curious enquirer and eager disciple, studying the scriptures, testing the validity of its historical claims, and comparing its assertions with those of other religions and philosophies. It will also mean pursuing opportunities to put the words of Jesus into action.
Uncertainty is not a disqualifier from being called to be a disciple of Jesus. Just as he commissioned those who doubted when he stood with them on the mountaintop in Galilee, he says to us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Like the man in the story of the “Healing of the Boy with a Spirit,” we can say, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).