Picture for a moment the scene in John 20:19-31. All of the disciples (except Thomas) are gathered behind a locked door because of fear of the Jews. After all, their Lord and Saviour had just been crucified, and they were probably thinking to themselves, “Are we going to be crucified next?” Suddenly, Jesus appears as if by magic. Now the disciples are REALLY scared. They are probably thinking to themselves, “Uh oh, we’re in trouble now!!!!! Are we going to get scolded for abandoning Jesus in his hour of need?” Imagine their shock when, instead of scolding them, Jesus says, “Peace be with you” and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them[1]. They were so happy and relieved that they had to tell everyone what happened, and one of the first people they spoke to was Thomas, the absent disciple.

So why was Thomas absent? Some scholars speculate that it might have been because of grief over the death of Jesus. Different people have different ways of dealing with grief. Some choose to share their grief publicly, while others share their grief with just a few close family members and friends. Still others choose to grieve alone and in silence. Some scholars believe that Thomas might have fallen into that third category.

In any event, Thomas refused to believe the news that Christ was alive. We are the same today. In many cases, we can’t believe everything we hear. That’s why agencies such as the police and Phone Busters always warn us about scams. We can’t trust everyone and everything. Trust in political figures is at an all-time low. Trust in the church and its leaders has also been eroded, especially by recent scandals[2].

It’s no wonder, therefore, that when someone tells us something so incredible, we don’t always believe what they say-gossip being a notable exception, particularly gossip about celebrities. In most cases, we demand concrete proof. In some cases, concrete proof or some other supporting evidence is required, such as in a court of law. We need to probe and test what others tell us. We need to judge it according to Jesus’ teaching. Specifically, we need to ask three questions:

  1. Is this loving?
  2. Does that harm anyone?
  3. Am I bringing peace as Jesus did?

Jesus knew that Thomas would need to see the concrete proof of his death and resurrection, just like we need to see it by reading all of the four major Gospels-Gospels that were written by reliable, independent eyewitnesses. That’s why he reappeared at a time and in a place where ALL of the disciples were gathered-INCLUDING THOMAS![3] When Thomas had an opportunity to see the evidence, he did not need it[4]. For him, Jesus was alive, and that’s all that mattered. People have differing needs and find various routes to faith, and seeing Jesus in the flesh was Thomas’s route to faith.

Believing without seeing is the essence of walking by faith and is something that Jesus appreciates, but there is a tension between seeing and believing. The apostle Peter acknowledged this tension when he wrote in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen [Christ], you love Him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. That should be true for every Christian. We believe in someone we have never seen and expect to spend eternity with him. The world says, “I’ll believe it when I see it”, but Christians say, “I’ll see it when I believe it”.[5] Christianity is the ability to see the light of Christ active in the world and to recognize it for what it is-the action and the goodness of God-even when it is present in ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things.

God can take skeptics and turn them into believers. In fact, some of the greatest preachers in both history and in modern times either started out as skeptics or had doubts at times on their faith journeys. For example, in his autobiography, “Just As I Am”, Billy Graham wrote of an incident that occurred just before his famous 1949 Los Angeles Crusade-the crusade that really launched his ministry. His heart was heavily burdened with his doubts about whether or not he could trust the Bible. He had his own version of Christ’s 40 days in the desert when he went into the San Bernardino Mountains, knelt before a tree stump and opened his Bible. He wrote the following paragraphs:

“The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions that…others are raising.

I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be your inspired Word.’”

“When I got up from my knees…that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.[6]

Just like Billy Graham’s faith was sustained by fellowship with God and with other believers, our faith is strengthened when we gather with fellow believers, especially at weekly worship services or in group Bible study. Those who do not go to church for reasons other than health or work schedules-reasons such as not liking the minister or the Order of Service or the music-may find it harder to have faith in Christ. They need to look at what they miss by not attending church, just like we also have to look at what Thomas missed by not being with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them for the first time after his resurrection. [7]

Even I have had my doubts about Christ and my faith in my life. Like many of you, I was born, raised, baptized and confirmed in the church, but when I went to university and for many years afterward, my faith was weakened (and to this day I honestly don’t know why). God did not lose patience with me, but instead used my father’s battle with terminal lung cancer along with the resulting support of the people and minister of my church at the time to bring me back into the fold and lead me to the bigger and better things that he had in mind for me-namely, my lay ministry in my church.

Like Billy Graham on that night in August 1949, we may want to believe, but struggle with hard questions and hard circumstances. Sometimes it is because we have been hurt, just like the faith of many Christians has been shaken by sex abuse scandals. Honest doubters are not close-minded people. They remain open to belief. They remain open to receiving the gift of faith, just like the disciples were open to receiving Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Doubt is a powerful weapon that the devil uses to attack our minds when our faith is weakened by daily struggles, distance from God, or by never truly knowing the Saviour[8]. Doubt can lead to faith. Only those who have had their faith shattered by the blows of pain and adversity can get to the other side of Calvary and experience the faith offered by the resurrection. [9]

Faith begins with honesty, and doubt is the foundation of honesty. Faith is the overcoming of doubt, NOT an absence of doubt. The most endearing things in life can’t be proven-they have to be accepted on faith. We must move beyond doubt to faith. There are those who say that because of the bad choices you have made in the past, you have sinned and fallen so far away from God that you can’t get back. Well, God says, “I doubt it!!!!!!!!” Doubt can lead to solutions and a better understanding. It doesn’t matter what the cause of our doubt is. Living beyond a doubt means living as encouragers through prayer concerns for others, preparing meals for those who are sick or mourning the loss of a loved one who has just passed away, or by sending notes and cards. Belief includes some sense of experience.

Sometimes our faith is shaken because our expectations of Christ are not fulfilled. For example, our faith might be shaken when we ask God to heal a loved one who is sick, and the loved one dies. At times like this, we might be tempted to give up on God, but we must keep on believing.  Jesus said in John 20:29, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”. When we feel that God has let us down, we must remember that he does what he does for us because it fits in with his plan for our lives. In his great wisdom, he is doing something that is even greater than what we asked him to do. We would do well to remember the old adage that “God works in mysterious ways”.

God can take a weakened faith and make it stronger. For example, tradition has it that the disciple Thomas went to India and founded a church there. Today, many Christians in India call themselves by his name. They are known as the St. Thomas Christians.[10] Thomas’ doubt was erased, and he went places[11]. Billy Graham’s doubts were erased on that summer night in 1949, and he went on to become one of the most famous and most successful evangelists of our time. If Thomas, Billy Graham and other men of God can have their doubts about their faith erased and go on to have successful ministries, God can erase our doubts and help us to be successful in our faith journeys.

[1] Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “Other Resurrections”. Retrieved April 5, 2010 from http://www.lectionary.org

[2] Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions 2nd Sunday of Easter-C-April 11, 2010” Received by email on April 3, 2010 from jboll@preacherexchange.org

[3] ESV Study Bible

[4] John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Second Sunday of Easter-April 11, 2010 Received by email from http://www.seemslikegod.org

[5] Robert A. Schuller, “Believing without Seeing” Received by email on June 28, 2008 from positiveminute@hourofpower.org

[6] Billy Graham, “Just As I Am”, (1997, Toronto, ON: HarperCollins), p. 139

[7] Donald Strobe, “Believing Thomas” Retrieved on April 4, 2010 from esermons.com

[8] Tracie Miles, “Believing is Seeing” Received by email on June 1, 2009 from Encouragement_for_Today@crosswalkmail.com

[9] Donald Strobe, “Believing Thomas” Retrieved on April 4, 2010 from esermons,com

[10] Selwyn Hughes, “Coming Back from Doubt” Received by email on September 22, 2009 from crosswalkmail.com

[11] Sermon Writer, “The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C, April 11, 2010” Retrieved on April 5, 2010 from lectionary,org

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