Faithful Thomas: A Second Look (Jan – Feb 2009)

By Matt Dabbs

by Ashley Weaver
January – February, 2009

Readers VoicesThomas. Doubting Thomas. Ouch. What a nickname. To go down in history with a name like that; shameful. Right?! Growing up in the church, whenever I heard the name Thomas it was always in the context of his doubt. In my mind – at that time – Thomas was inferior. He was a disciple of Jesus, but such a disappointment.

It took many years, lessons learned and patience from God for me to see Thomas in a different light; in God’s light. In fact, Thomas is like me, or rather, I am like Thomas. Doubting Ashley. It doesn’t have that familiar ring to it, but the doubting part is painfully familiar.

Thomas is mentioned most often in John’s gospel. Interesting. One of John’s central themes is belief. Maybe John couldn’t relate to Thomas and wanted to showcase his weak faith. Probably not. Being that another of John’s favorite topics was love, maybe his heart went out to Thomas and he just wanted the guy to experience Jesus more deeply, like he did.

We hear from Thomas in John 11 after Jesus had received word that Lazarus was sick. Martha and Mary had hoped that Jesus would hurry to Lazarus’ side. Jesus, though, waited two days before responding to their request. When he did respond, the disciples were concerned for Jesus’ safety, because when he had been there previously, the Jews tried to stone him. As reluctant or confused as they may have been, it was Thomas who said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Are these words of bravery and courage or doubt and cynicism? We don’t know. We do know that the disciples followed Jesus back to Bethany, even in the face of death. Sounds like bravery to me. But there may have been cynicism too, revealing a thread of distrust and pessimism in Thomas’ charge. I can hear it because it sounds like me: “Whatever!” “It doesn’t matter. It’s not going to work out anyway.” “That’s just my luck.”

Thomas was ready to die with Jesus, but he still wrestled with his faith. It’s a paradox. A man willing to follow Jesus to the death, but unsure about why. Like Thomas, I have good intentions, brave moments, but too often a little black cloud hovers overhead.

We hear from Thomas again in John chapter 14. Jesus is telling his disciples that he will be leaving but will be preparing a place for them in his Father’s house. He adds that he will return and take them back with him. Thomas responds, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Is there a hint of frustration or aggravation in his question? We tend to get that way when things are unclear or confusing. We like it when things make sense; when we understand what’s going on. We really like it when we think we have a good idea about what the future holds. So many times I have wrestled with an issue in my life wanting to trust God with it, but have been resistant because I couldn’t see how it would work out.

We all wrestle with our faith from time to time, but sometimes doubt gets the best of us. Persistent doubt has, on occasion, led me to despair. That little black cloud finally erupts into a violent storm, and I question everything I believe. Recently, during a very difficult time in my life, I journaled the following: “I think I’m shutting down for awhile. Why pray? Why seek God’s direction? I don’t know if “answered prayers” through the years are even answers. Maybe they’re just…life. I’m done. I’m sick and tired of trying with no fruit, no let up, no improvement.” I didn’t pray for a month.

Is doubt a bad thing? Not if we let it drive us to Jesus. Not if we continue to wrestle until our doubts are dispelled. The fact that we are struggling implies that we are still engaged in the battle, even if just barely holding on.

Can I trust Jesus with my life? Is he safe? Does he love me? If I let go, will he catch me? What is Jesus up to? Isn’t that the question?
My favorite passage about Thomas is in the 20th chapter of John. Following the resurrection, although Mary Magdalene had encountered the Risen Jesus at the tomb, the disciples still weren’t infused with confidence. They were hunkered down together, in a home with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Then something wonderful happened. Jesus appeared and stood among them and blessed them.

Thomas, however, was not with them. Where was he? Why wasn’t he there? Although he had been willing to die with Jesus earlier, maybe bravery gave way to doubt and he turned his back on Jesus. Was he discouraged and disillusioned? Maybe he gave full vent to his cynicism when he saw Jesus hanging on the cross.

If I were Thomas, after all that, I would have wanted to be alone. Alone with my guilt and disappointment. I wouldn’t have wanted to hear weak attempts at explanations, from the other disciples, about what just happened. I wouldn’t have wanted to comfort others or be comforted. I would have felt foolish for believing in this new King. I would be telling myself not to trust anyone again. I would feel hurt, but mostly angry, that I let this Jesus touch my heart the way he did, only to let me down.

Whatever the reason, Thomas wasn’t there. But the next time the disciples saw him, they relayed the good news, “We have seen the Lord!” They probably told him how they “saw his hands and his side where he was pierced.”

Poor Thomas. If that had been me, my first thought would have been, “No way,” followed by, “That figures; everyone saw but me.”

Upon hearing this, Thomas informs them, “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.” He didn’t want to just see; he wanted to touch. He wanted to put his finger where the nails were and his hand into his side. Was this request motivated by childlike desire or bold cynicism?

I wonder what Thomas’ thoughts were following that incident. Did he wrestle back and forth with, I want it to be true, but how can it be? If it’s true, why wasn’t I there? Why didn’t Jesus appear to me?

A week later, the disciples were in the house again, doors were locked; same story. Only this time Thomas was with them. And just like the last time, Jesus appeared before them. Awesome! But it doesn’t end there. It gets better! After greeting them, Jesus said to Thomas, not to the group, but to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Now that’s an answer to prayer! Rewind for a second and see again what Thomas had said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side…”

Jesus met Thomas where he was. He provided what Thomas needed to believe. Jesus knew Thomas wanted to believe. Thomas may have at times, like me, found himself saying: “Help me overcome my unbelief.” Jesus works with the faith, be it ever so small, that we have. Thomas wrestled with doubts, but Jesus knew his desire to believe.

Isn’t that our desire as well?

About four weeks into my prayer strike, I was in my parent’s home perusing a familiar book shelf. I spotted a biography of one of my favorite Christian writers that I had never seen before. I’ve read most of this author’s books, but never even knew of the biography. It seemed to jump out at me, although my mom said it had been there for a long time. As I read the book, God ministered to me, through the account of this author’s life. I was encouraged and invited to pray again.

Jesus met me where I was; even in one of my darkest moments. He didn’t frown on Thomas or distance himself from him because he wasn’t measuring up. Nor did he with me. He provided, for Thomas, just what he needed to believe. And he does the same for us!New Wineskins

Ashley WeaverAshley and her husband, Jim, live in Oklahoma City with their five wonderful kids. She enjoys the outdoors; especially the mountains and loves the three R’s: reading, writing and running. Going “far and fast” in her relationship with God is her desire, and she’s holding on for the ride!

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1581 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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