What’s the Difference?
I am also guilty of unfairly labeling Thomas as a doubter. Growing up in a church where pastors, speakers, Bible study leaders, and other Christian friends always associated the name Thomas with the word doubt, I was influenced.
Well, in a sense, that would be just technically natural. We remember Thomas by his famous words,
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 it.
His statement is found in the famous story of Jesus’ appearance in the midst of his doubting disciples after his resurrection.
But why do we single out Thomas, as if he was the only one who doubted? Didn’t every one of the remaining eleven disciples doubted Jesus’ resurrection? How about Mary while standing near Jesus grave? Didn’t she ask the gardener about the location of Jesus’ body—not recognizing (perhaps because of doubt) that the gardener she was asking was actually the Jesus she was looking for?
Yes, Thomas doubted. But wasn’t it an honest doubt?
As far as I observe, the one difference I see between Thomas and the other disciples is that Thomas vocally expressed his doubt. Like the suffering Job of the Old Testament, Thomas expressed his feeling with full honesty—a healthy characteristic that is expected of a relationship—the same characteristic that made Job become vindicated by God instead of his friends.
Thomas’ words is an expression of an honest doubt. In contrast, those Pharisees who ask Jesus tricky questions are stubborn skeptics. They don’t really look for answers. They look for ways to prove that they are better than anyone else. They are driven by arrogance not by a searching soul.
An honest doubter is thirsty. An answer quenches her thirst. A stubborn Skeptic on the other hand, is an addict: no amount of intake will satisfy—any answer we provide seems to worsen his condition. An honest doubter is confused; a stubborn skeptic has already made up his mind.
Perhaps honest doubt is a sign of genuine perplexity while stubborn skepticism is a sign of an arrogant disbelief.
I think, one very obvious difference between honest doubt and stubborn skepticism is what happens after one receives an answer. The honest doubter is transformed into becoming a fearless proclaimer—“My Lord and my God!”; while the stubborn skeptic looks for another loophole, for another way to challenge, for another trick.
By the way, wasn’t Thomas the only one in the four gospels who proclaimed that Jesus is God? Perhaps that’s what happens when we deal with our honest doubts carefully.
When I encounter honest doubters, I am compassionate enough to help. They honestly thirst for answers. But the moment I notice someone asking tricky questions like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, I just ignore them . . . for they will never be satisfied. They are not looking for answers, they are looking for arguments. I don’t want to waste my time explaining to a stubborn skeptic.
It’s okay to doubt. For it is impossible to grow faith without the element of doubt. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a six-feet tall plant, faith grows in the soil of doubt. There is one danger, though, when we are in time of doubt: we are prone to be attracted to the skeptics’ arguments.
I have observed people who when facing doubt, they immerse themselves deeply into more doubting questions, they entertain other doubters statements and they welcome skeptics’ arguments. No wonder they end up being skeptic as well. No wonder they never recover.
When a person is cold, he needs to cover himself with more clothes instead of removing his garments. My two younger sons are afraid of the dark. They are afraid because they remember the horror movies they watched. But the more afraid they become, the more they want to feed the cause of their fear: the more they watch horror movies. Like the person who is cold, the more they are freezing to death, the more they are removing one by one all their garments.
Some doubters are like my sons, the more they doubt, the more they entertain the already attractive skeptic’s faulty arguments. Instead of carefully looking for answers, they entertain themselves with more skeptical questions and proofs that support their doubt.
For many years in my Christian life, I always swing back and forth between strong faith and crippling doubts. Every time I experience doubts, I express it to my family and non-condemning friends, and then I immerse myself to other facts that will help me recover. At the same time, I avoid skeptics’ words, for they will not help.
After recovering from doubts, I always end up fearlessly proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”