I’m a doubter. A skeptic.
Depending on what circles one moves within, this is either good or bad — rarely anything in between. If you’re a scientist, for example, a healthy skepticism is likely your friend. But if you’re a teenager asking questions at your Southern Baptist church, it’s more likely to be seen as your very own first-class ticket to hell.
For most of us, though, doubt is simply part of life. We doubt ourselves. We doubt someone’s (or everyone’s) motives. And yes, we doubt our beliefs.
Perhaps my natural doubting abilities are why I identify with the story of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. Chances are you likely know him as “Doubting Thomas.” Whether or not it should be, it’s kind of how he is known. Here’s the basic story:
Jesus appeared to some of the disciples after his resurrection, but Thomas wasn’t there. When he arrived, the disciples tried to tell him they saw Jesus, but he wasn’t having any of it.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” he tells them.
Thomas wasn’t playing around, y’all! So a week goes by and all the disciples are together again, this time with Thomas, when Jesus shows up again.
“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Jesus – 1, Thomas – 0.
But seriously, though, this is such an important part of the story to me. Yet again, we are shown that one of the people closest to Jesus was an imperfect human being. This time, it was someone who doubted. And let’s be honest: If someone walked up to you, no matter how close of a friend they are, and told you a story like that, would you believe them without seeing for yourself? Probably not.
Not only is doubt a normal part of life, it should be a normal part of a Christian’s life. The more Christians behave as if doubt is abnormal and means a person is less committed to following Jesus than they are, the more people are pushed away from the life-giving message Christians are supposed to be sharing.
I love what Ian S. Markham & C.K. Robertson have to say about doubt:
“It is often said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. When we think about God, we do so from the vantage point of humans. We are small entities in a vast universe; we are trying to work out what the source and creator of the universe is like. We should approach this project with some humility. Our vantage point does not permit certainty. We are called to think, struggle, and discern the truth about God and God’s relations with the world…we are all on a journey of faith. This journey will have many twists and turns. Sometimes our sense and experience of God will be strong; at other times, God will seem to be further away.”
I’ve written about my faith journey before and have likely referenced that I actually have a much better, firmer understanding of what I believe because of my doubts. Questioning things means exploring things, and exploration is an opportunity for growth. You know who doesn’t grow? People who think they’ve got it all figured out. As author Rachel Held Evans has said, “In the end, it was doubt that saved my faith.”
Life ebbs and flows, so it is only natural that our spiritual lives will, too. Through it all, though, God is with us. Even in times when we aren’t so sure, God is with us. If God made us, don’t you think God understands our nature? And if Jesus understood Thomas’ doubts, don’t you think he’ll understand our doubts, especially when he knows we don’t have the same opportunity as Thomas?
At the end of the story about “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus says those who have not seen and have still come to believe in him are blessed. Even in Thomas’ belief in Jesus as the son of God, he still had unbelief about this one thing until the truth was revealed to him. We have no reason to believe it is any different for us. In fact, through Thomas’ doubts, we received, what I believe, is one of life’s key lessons: Doubt is OK. I can’t say it enough. It seems it’s not the doubt that’s the issue, but what we do in response to it.
So if you are a Christian who doubts, join the club. Like, literally. Find a group of people that doesn’t just tolerate doubt, but deeply understands it and accepts it as part of life. By exploring our doubt, in relationship with others, we can find our way back to belief.