Dennis was a doubter. He grew up in a family that went to church and believed in God. But as Dennis came of age, he found himself doubting many of the things he had been taught. By the time he hit college, his struggles were pronounced. He became a major in science, and eventually his doubts solidified into deep convictions. He was very secure in his unbelief. Dennis went on to become a college-level instructor of biology and a medical doctor.
By the time I met Dennis, however, he admitted to me that he knew something was missing in his life, and we had great conversations. And I remember Dennis beginning to doubt his own doubts. He revisited all the things he was doubting and what he had once believed. And I watched a man who at one time had gone from belief to doubt to unbelief, move from that unbelief back to doubt and then eventually strong, vibrant belief in Jesus Christ.
Dennis’ story is not the only one of its kind. For generations, people have grappled with issues of faith. I’ve discovered that some of the strongest believers I’ve ever met or read were at one time struggling unbelievers: C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Dr. Francis Collins. Many, many people have struggled through doubts and come to a living faith.
Even people who lived during the time of Jesus struggled (see Mark 9:24). The men who were closest to Jesus had their doubts (see Luke 24:9-11). But the classic doubter, Scripture’s most well-known skeptic, was the apostle Thomas. In John 20, we read:
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vv. 24-29)
Thomas was the apostle from Missouri—the “show me” state. “Hey, Tom, Jesus is alive!” “Show me.” “No, really, the tomb is empty.” “Show me.” He was the classic doubter. In fact, even today we call someone who’s a doubter a doubting Thomas, as if Thomas is the patron saint of all skeptics. In the New Testament, we usually find Thomas singing in the minor key. He always saw the dark side of things. If he were a Winnie the Pooh character, he would be Eeyore.
But did you know that Thomas was loyal? There was a time when Jesus said, “Let’s go back up to Judea,” and all of the apostles said, “Now, wait a minute, the Jews wanted to stone you in Judea. Why would you go there?” It was Thomas who spoke up and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). Now, that might be an Eeyore statement, but it’s a loyal statement.
Thomas was also honest. He was real. When Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room after the Passover supper, “I go to prepare a place for you…. And where I go you know, and the way you know,” Thomas piped up and said, “We don’t know where you’re going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:2, 4-5). In other words, “I don’t understand a word You just said.” Pretty honest, isn’t it? But I’m so glad Thomas said that. You know why? Because in response, Jesus said what I consider pure gold in Scripture: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (v. 6).
Thomas was not the kind of guy who would put on a spiritual mask, who would say, “Hallelujah, praise the Lord!” if he didn’t truly mean it. He just said, “Don’t know where You’re going. Couldn’t figure out the way.” With statements like that, he couldn’t possibility be faking. So his honesty is to be commended—but he was also a doubter. What doubts did Thomas have? What did he struggle with? He doubted the activity of Jesus — specifically, that He had risen from the dead. This doubt was based on a personal presupposition: that dead people don’t get up again. When people die, that’s it. Thomas had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but that guy Himself was now dead, and Thomas was not expecting Him to ever die. If He’s really the Messiah, He’s going to set up the kingdom. But now He’s dead. And because Thomas wasn’t expecting Jesus’ death, he certainly was not expecting His resurrection. He wasn’t open to the idea at all.
This places Thomas’ doubt in a category I would even label “unbelief.” Doubt and unbelief are different. Doubt looks for answers; unbelief doesn’t really care about the answers. Doubt says, “I can’t believe”; unbelief says, “I won’t believe.” Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt will work through the difficulties and find a faith that is reasonable and satisfying. Unbelief is different; it decides against faith and pushes it away at all costs.
Thomas was one of the apostles who did not go to the tomb to see if it was empty. We have no record of him ever going. In fact, the first time Jesus showed up to the apostles after His resurrection, Thomas wasn’t even with them. They had to tell Thomas about it later on, because he had isolated himself from them.
So how did Jesus handle this doubting apostle? He appealed to personal discovery. I smile when I read how Jesus once again visited the disciples, Thomas among them this time, and after appearing out of thin air, said, “Peace to you!” (v. 26). Now, if I was Thomas, I would be thinking at that point, Oh no. I’m in for it. Sure enough, Jesus turned to Thomas and said, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (v. 27).
People are funny, aren’t they? You can tell someone that there are 735,688,000,000 stars in the sky, and they’ll say, “I believe that.” Show them a sign, however, that says “Wet Paint,” and they have to touch it to find out if it’s true. But notice how gracious Jesus was with Thomas. He condescended to his request, putting out His hands and basically saying, “You want evidence? Check it out.”
I challenge you to do the same. If you want evidence for the historic Christian faith, it abounds. The credentials of Jesus Christ include His impact on history, fulfilled prophecy, the claims He made about Himself, and His resurrection. If you just go with those things, you’ll find that there’s plenty of evidence. In fact, there are more details about the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ than any other single human being in the ancient world. Check it out for yourself.
After Jesus offered Thomas His hands and His side, He said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” In other words, “Stop being faithless, Thomas. Now’s the time for you to rise up and become a believer.” So Thomas quickly ascended from the lowest depths to the highest heights and said, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). And Jesus affirmed that statement of faith.
What a journey Thomas went on from doubt to faith. Perhaps you’re not a doubter, but you want to love a doubter in your life the way Jesus loves them. Let me give you a few tips on how to approach them, whether it’s a child, parent, friend, coworker, or even spouse:
- Be available. Don’t say, “I don’t want to talk about that. I can’t give you answers to that.” Be there to dialogue with them about their doubts, just as Jesus met the doubts of Thomas head- on. We all want rational faith. There’s something within us that says, “My heart cannot delight in what my minds rejects as false.” That’s where evidence is so beneficial.
- Be patient. More than that, be unshockingly patient. Someone’s doubts are more than likely not going to be fully addressed in just one conversation.
- Be prepared. Why not read up a little on the different evidences for the Christian faith? It’s not hard to do. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you become even minimally adept at apologetics. Instead of saying, “I hate when people ask me those questions,” how about being able to say, “I’m ready for those questions”? Even though you won’t be able to know all the answers, know where to find the answers. Perhaps keep a book at home, in your car, or at the office that you can give to someone who’s dealing with issues of faith. Show them that God isn’t asking them to take a blind leap into the dark, but a balanced leap into the light.I actually think it’s fun to dialogue with people who have doubts. They’ll say, “Well, I’m just a clear thinker—it’s hard for me to have faith.” And I’ll say, “You know what? You’re wrong. You have faith every day. When you go to a restaurant, you have faith that they’re going to give you a meal that won’t kill you, right?” Now, some restaurants require more faith than others, but the point is that everybody lives with faith, even the atheist and the doubter.
- Be nice. There is no excuse for an arrogant believer getting down on someone for their doubts. Did you notice how compassionate Jesus was to Thomas? When Thomas wasn’t with the disciples the first time Jesus appeared to them, Jesus didn’t say, “Wow, guys, we need to pray for that Thomas. He’s really a doubter.” And when He finally came face to face with Thomas, He didn’t rebuke him for his failure. He offered him proof of His activity.
That’s because Jesus loves people—even those who doubt. And Ben Franklin was right when he said, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” Just ask Thomas. Just ask my friend Dennis. I hope and pray that we as Jesus-followers would show that same radical love to the doubters in our life, no matter where they come from.
About The Author
Skip Heitzig ministers to over 15,000 people as senior pastor of Calvary Church in Albuquerque. He reaches out to thousands across the nation and throughout the world through his multimedia ministry including a nationwide half-hour radio program, Connect with Skip Heitzig. He is the author of several books including Bloodline, You Can Understand the Book of Revelation, and The Bible from 30,000 Feet. He has also published over two dozen booklets in the Lifestyle series, covering aspects of Christian living. He serves on several boards, including Samaritan’s Purse and Harvest.