I have encountered many critics, skeptics, and cynics of Christianity, and even those who claim to believe in Jesus, but have doubts about faith, God, the Bible, and heaven. There were plenty of what I would call “doubting Thomas’” among the students and faculty I befriended, who were not sure if Jesus was who He said He was. I was careful not to ridicule them for “doubting” the existence of God, the validity of the Scriptures, or how to handle their own doubts about faith.
I have to admit I am a big fan of the Thomas we meet in the New Testament, courtesy of the apostle John. My reasons emerged out of conversations in the early 1980’s when Gene and Lynn Breitenbach were traveling the country as national evangelists for Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. We invited Gene and Lynn to Ohio University (OU) to conduct a week of evangelism. It was a focused effort of training our students in sharing the message of Jesus with others. We offered daily two-by-two evangelism opportunities to go out with Gene, Lynn, or I and talk with others; Gene led several dorm talks; Lynn, a dorm concert, as well as some outdoor drama and open-air preaching. All in all, it was a fun week with lots of great conversations and fruit.
As I watched and listened to Gene and Lynn lead our students out of their comfort zone, I heard them talk about a love of hard questions, even as they listened to people’s initial objections to the Person and claims of Jesus. Gene and Lynn exhibited great grace and confidence in God and were never rattled or threatened by questions, concerns, or arguments against the Gospel. Rather, they enjoyed encouraging people to wrestle with their doubts and sincerely look for answers.
They used Thomas as an example of a man they respected because he sought a personal experience of the risen Christ. He refused to settle for second hand information or the second-best account of someone else’s encounter with Jesus. Gene and Lynn discipled my students and their pre-Christian listening audience to read primary source materials and press in to know Christ for themselves. They inspired many that it’s okay to wrestle with good questions.
Second, Gene and Lynn acknowledged that Thomas did not bow to “peer pressure.” I mean the other disciples of Jesus were probably trying to persuade Thomas into accepting that the risen Christ has appeared to them. It would have been easy for Thomas to merely go along with them, rather than remain in a lonely minority of one who doubted. But he had the guts to insist on a firsthand experience! And as I overheard Gene and Lynn say on more than one occasion, God honored Thomas’ request and He would also “be found if you take time to seek Him at OU.”
Read John 20:24-29.
Jesus added words of blessing to those who, “have not seen, yet believe” (v 29), but I don’t think that is a tacit affirmation of what some might call “blind faith.” Jesus was also not angry with Thomas for wanting a first-hand encounter with Him. Instead, He gave Thomas undeniable proof, then told him to stop doubting and believe, which he did – immediately! The great newsflash is Jesus is not angry with any of us, skeptic or believer, for having doubts.
We have lots to learn from Thomas (and Gene and Lynn). Don’t run from hard questions or sincere doubts. Live communally. Encourage your friends that faith does not mean the absence of doubts. If God honored Thomas’ request, He will surely answer yours. You probably won’t be able to feel His wounds with your hand, but He will no doubt make Himself real to you.
Love is a verb,
©2015 by Mike Olejarz