Doubting Thomas

Today is the feast day of Thomas the Apostle, famously known as “Doubting Thomas.” In the modern world, Thomas is remembered as the Apostle who said he would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he touched His crucified hands and put his fingers into the stab wound in the Lord’s side. Jesus granted his request, and the rest is, literally, history. Thomas became a lesson to us all and a reminder that living a Christian life requires us to take some things on faith. Trust, without the “verify.”

Thomas is mentioned at least two other times in the Gospels. First, when Jesus announced that they were going to see Lazarus (who had fallen ill and died). Thomas said to the other disciples, “Let us go and die with him,” knowing that they were returning to an area where official hostility to Jesus was high. And the third mention was during the last supper, when Thomas, probably speaking the doubt that everyone else in the room felt, admitted to Jesus that he did not know “the way” to heaven that Jesus described. This gave Jesus the opportunity to reveal that He Himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

There is some dispute about what happened to Thomas after Jesus’ ascension. While it is generally believed that he brought the Gospel to parts of India, it is unclear where and how he died.

Saint Thomas was used by Jesus to show us that our doubts are an inevitable part of our faith. We accept some pretty outrageous things, things that people who insist on hard proofs will never accept. As St. Paul says, “We walk by faith, and not by sight,” (2 Cor 5:7).

Learning to accept those doubts and to move beyond them is one of the first battles that a developing Christian must face, although “battle” is probably the wrong way to say it. Because our challenge is to stop fighting it and accept it. To let Jesus be a part of our life despite the lack of tangible physical evidence. Once we do that, the spiritual evidence will come pouring into our souls. When we give our doubts to Jesus in faith, he gives back to us proof in the form of spiritual grace. And like a torrent on a grass fire, spiritual grace extinguishes doubt.

So, accept those nagging questions. Admit that you wonder why certain things are the way they are. Don’t hide them, set them down at the table the next time you and Jesus are having a quiet cup of coffee. And then be prepared to be amazed.

Bring on your doubts

St. Thomas the apostle is the world’s most famous doubter. After the resurrection, his ten friends were abuzz with excitement about Jesus’ resurrection, but Thomas didn’t buy it. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

We all know the rest of the story, and even atheists know what a Doubting Thomas means.

But here’s a point to that story that everyone misses. Thomas wasn’t condemned by Jesus for his doubts. Jesus offered his hands and his sides and told Thomas to satisfy himself that Christ had in fact risen. This story in John’s Gospel is normally used to encourage those of us who have not seen Jesus to have faith, so we often skip right over the point that poor Thomas, while not the best example of faith, was still accepted in Jesus’ family.

Doubt played a very special role in my own faith. I was raised in a Catholic family. Due to whatever combination of parenting and my own mental processing, I always equated doubting with sinning. Most of my religious education consisted of half-listening to what I was told in Catechism, and not bothering to ask questions, even when I (often) didn’t understand what was being taught.

Fast forward 40-some years. A couple years ago, I was listening to an audio CD on Catholicism, and wondering about certain aspects of the church that I didn’t understand. Finally, in a moment of frustration, I said to the Lord, “God, I want to learn more about you, but I am afraid that I may learn you don’t exist!”

Do you know what the sound of God laughing is like? I learned at that moment. God laughed, softly, gently, and said to me, “Oh, my child. I have been with mankind since before its beginning. Aristotle, Augustine, Chesterton, and millions more have studied me. I think I can handle your doubts. Bring your questions to me and have faith. I will still be here when you find your answers.”

And he has been. Seek and you shall find.