Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, His disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among the, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Stop! Don’t read any further. Look at the above passage of Scripture again and choose the phrase that jumps out at you the most.
Maybe it’s the lament of Thomas, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and play my hand in His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
Maybe it is the confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), the only time in the Bible that Lord and God are used in the same sentence.
Or maybe it is the challenge of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have no seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
As I have grown older, my eyes go to the seemingly innocuous words in verse 20:26, “Eight days later, His disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them.”
We know that the first encounter the disciples had with Jesus was on the evening of the day of the Resurrection. We know that the Resurrection happened on a Sunday, so it was Sunday night. Eight days later, in the Judaic-Byzantine way of counting would have been the following Sunday, so actually seven days later in the way that we count.
After that first encounter, the disciples must have been joyful and awestruck. Joyful to see their friend who had died. And awestruck that what Jesus had predicted had actually happened. This was indeed the Son of God. They told Thomas, presumably that night or the next day. Thomas drew his line in the sand that day—“Unless I see His hands,” etc.
And then a week went by. The disciples had remained in Jerusalem. It was still a hostile place. They were behind doors that were closed and locked “for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19) That fear didn’t just disappear. In fact, the disciples were probably more fearful than ever because their fear would have been combined with confusion. We are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus appeared eight days later to the disciples. Where was He during that week? Alone? With other followers? Were there rumors of His appearance after the crucifixion? Were there hostile Romans claiming He had been stolen in the night? We know that the Jewish leadership was spreading this rumor. All in all, that first appearance of Jesus might have brought some temporary joy, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it created some doubt as well. And of course it created doubt for Thomas.
Thomas had ample time that week to leave town, to get away from all of this confusion and fear. And yet, he stayed. Because eight days later, when Jesus again appeared to the Disciples, Thomas was with them. Doubt and all, Thomas showed up.
The second statement on the survey I gave a few months ago was: I struggle to believe the things we say we believe in, which means I understand what we say we believe, I’m just not sure I believe it.
As with the first statement, most people did not have a great struggle with this. The comments made about this statement all dealt with doubt. Hence, this reflection on what to do when you have doubt. The simple answer, keep showing up, like Thomas. We have doubts about many things in our lives. And most of those doubts we work through. We have doubts about whether we should have taken a job, or moved to a new city, or gone to college, or had a child, etc. A doubt isn’t a reason to quit—I would venture to say that almost every parent has had doubts after having a child if that was the best decision. If everyone stopped showing up, every child would be an orphan. If everyone stopped showing up for work, nothing would get done. If everyone doubted going to college, no one would be educated. What do we do when we have doubts in life? We keep showing up and most of the time, our doubts work out. So, what is the answer to when we have doubts about our faith? Keep showing up and let the doubts work themselves out.
I actually think that Thomas is unfairly called “Doubting Thomas.” I think he would better be called “faithful Thomas,” because he showed up even when he was filled with doubt.
We have to know what sadness is in order to know what happiness is. In the same way, we have to know what doubt is in order to understand what confidence is. Doubt is a part of every life, including the Christian life. So, if you are doubting, keep showing up. When you have a doubt, keep showing up. And here’s one other thing Thomas did that helped him—he stayed with a group of people who had more confidence than he did, and that undoubtedly rubbed off on him. Had he isolated himself with his thoughts and his doubts, perhaps he would not have come back. He stayed with the group and their confidence undoubtedly gave him confidence. I admire Thomas—he is an example of what to do when we have doubt—keep showing up. For prayer, for worship, for Christ, for others.
Lord, help me to keep showing up for You, even when I doubt that You are real, or that You have a plan for my life. When I can’t see the way, help me to trust that Your ways and Your plans for my life have a purpose, even when I don’t know it. Surround me with confident people, so that on the days when my faith is riddled with doubt, I have people who are confident in their faith to help encourage me to be confident in mine. Help me to have confidence so that my confidence may help others in their moments of doubt. Amen.
There is nothing wrong with doubting. It is part of life and part of faith. When you doubt, don’t quit. Keep showing up!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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