Thomas’s faith

Let me begin by saying the translation here in the NRSV is bad. John doesn’t use the word “doubt” here. The word Jesus uses in talking to Thomas is faithless[1]. But the thinking that lies behind the NRSV committee’s choice of words here is what has contributed to Thomas having been given short shrift by the world with respect to so often being remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” He deserves to be respected for his faith. He was concerned to not be duped and if that’s what it means to doubt: then his doubts had a purpose—he really wanted to know the truth. Thomas didn’t idolize his doubts as some do. He gladly believed when given reason to do so. He expressed his doubt fully and therefore he was answered completely. Doubting was his way of responding, rather than his way of life.

But let’s turn to Scripture and see if we can bring Thomas to life. We meet him first in Jn 11:7–16. Jesus says, “Let us go back to Judea.” The other disciples immediately warn against it, reminding Him of the great danger of returning to the area of Jerusalem where His enemies were ready to kill Him. Only Thomas, demonstrating unselfish courage and unquestioning loyalty to Jesus, said, “We’d better go too, so that we may die with him.” Then in Jn 14:4–7 we find an inquiring Thomas. After listening to Jesus, but not understanding His words – “Where I’m going, you know the way.” – Thomas asks, as quite many of us might well have, “Master we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?” Thanks to Thomas, we get the answer, “I am the way and the truth and life.” Thomas didn’t hesitate to follow Jesus. Although he doesn’t appear in any of the arrest or crucifixion passages, he doesn’t disown Jesus like Peter, and he didn’t betray Jesus like Judas. But he’s not mentioned until his absence is noticed today in John’s gospel.

We don’t know why Thomas was absent the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, but we do know he was reluctant to believe them. Not even ten friends could get him to change his mind! He wanted to be sure. Jesus isn’t saying that this was wrong: Jesus is saying that being faithless is wrong. Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith and can lead to faith. Fear and indecision that lead to a failure to follow God: that is the opposite of faith.

We can doubt without having to live a doubting way of life. Doubt encourages rethinking—which is absolutely ok. Its purpose is more to sharpen the mind than to change it. Doubt can be used to pose the question, get an answer, and push for a decision. But doubt was never meant to be a permanent condition. Doubt is one foot lifted and poised to step forward or backward. There is no motion until the foot comes down.

When you experience doubt be encouraged by Thomas. He didn’t stay in his doubt, he allowed himself to believe. Be encouraged by the fact that countless other followers of Jesus have struggled with doubts. The answers God gave them may help you, too. Don’t settle into your doubts, but move on from them to decision and belief. Find a compassionate priest with whom you can share your doubts. Thomas expressed his concern and look what happened. Silent doubts rarely find answers.

Look at the other doubters in the bible: Abraham doubted God in his old age about being a father. Sarah doubted God in her old age about being a mother. Moses doubted God when the Lord told him to return to Egypt to lead the Hebrews. The entire Israelite people doubted God when they were faced with difficulties in the wilderness. Gideon doubted God when told he would be the judge and leader of the people. Zechariah doubted God when he was told he would a father in his old age. John the Baptist doubted while he was in prison. All of the disciples doubted in Matthew 28.17. And Thomas doubted when he was told Jesus had risen from the dead. So, if you doubt, you’re in good company.

As to the life of Thomas after what is recorded in Scripture, I learned that of all of the other Apostles, his ministry was the most active and that most of it took place beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The Tradition says that he evangelized what became part of Eastern Turkey, as well as Armenia, India, Iran and Southeast Asia. He was even given the title, “Apostle to the Orient.” It is believed that the Apostle arrived in India in AD 52 and was martyred in AD 72.

Finally I remind you of the summation of the entire Theology of Anselm (April 21, 1109): Anselm wrote that he did not understand so that he could believe. He said that he believed so that he might understand. Dear friends, believe. Have faith. Take courage. Be not afraid and live the life of faith that God wants for you.

[1] ἄπιστος  1) unfaithful, faithless, (not to be trusted, perfidious) 2) incredible 2a) of things 3) unbelieving, incredulous 3a) without trust (in God)


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