Courageous Thomas: Pastor Dan Haugen (April 7th)

Courageous Thomas

I found our Gospel lesson today one of the more difficult stories in the Bible to write on because I have to confess it hits so close to home for me. Like Thomas I’m often looking for signs. It would be so much easier if God would just give the most obvious sign so we could shed the doubt and confusion of so many people, including ourselves sometimes. Every now and then we hear some skeptic somewhere say, “If God is real, why doesn’t He give us a sign,” Of course; ignoring all the signs God has given already. Maybe it would be easier if God did something that left no doubt.

A man named Frederick Buechner asked the question in one of his sermons, “why doesn’t God send us a sign to dispel all doubts, like a message from the sky, written by the arrangement of the universe, with suns and moons to dot the I’s and cross the t’s, so that the night sky would read, “I am God! I really do exist!!!!”

Woody Allen has said he would believe in God if God would send him a sign – such as making a large deposit in a bank account under the name, “Woody Allen.”

Of course, it’s nothing new to desire a sign from God. We all want a sure confirmation of our beliefs. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell others, “I believe, just because.”

Jesus recognized this and said in the fourth chapter of John verse 48, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” It’s this kind of thinking we see coming from Thomas in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

Through the years, Thomas has taken a beating. Historians and biblical scholars have not been kind in many cases. In fact, they have traditionally been almost unfair in their treatment of this member of the twelve apostles of Christ. That’s why it’s hard to admit sometimes, that there is a lot of Thomas in us.

It’s not to say that they didn’t have good reason to be somewhat critical. After all, Thomas was like many of us and demanded a sign. He wanted proof that Jesus was, indeed, risen from the dead.

Unlike the other apostles, Thomas wasn’t around on Easter morning to see the empty tomb, or to speak with the angel at the entrance, or to recognize the return of their beloved teacher from the grave. When the others told Thomas that Christ was alive again, it didn’t seem that there was even a hint of wonder or acceptance. Instead, there was an all too human skepticism. We can see this skepticism in his response when he says, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my fingers on those scars, and my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

Now we have no doubt of Thomas’s belief in Jesus as the Christ. In one of the few times he is mentioned in the Gospels, we hear him declare his trust in Jesus and was even prepared to die with Jesus if he were to make his way back to Judea to go to Lazarus’s grave. John 11:16 says, “Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” But even at this, he knows the finality of death and he is a skeptic to the testimony of the others.

We can almost see Thomas shifting his eyes and folding his arms while he raises his eyebrows at Peter as he thought, “Pete, how gullible can you be? Peter, poor, poor Peter, you are in denial. Jesus is dead. We saw it ourselves and nothing can change that. It’s time to move on.”

Thomas matter-of-factly and openly dismissed the story as a fable, responding to this story in much the same way we do when we read a tabloid story about an alien that looks like Elvis being discovered in an old farmhouse somewhere or a healthy and fool-proof way to lose 20 pounds in three days.

 The news of the Resurrection was easy to dismiss. The first reports of the Resurrection took place in the dark, cold early morning hours. The first witnesses were women who had been emotionally and mentally strained with grief and were overcome by what they had seen during the confusion of the arrest of Jesus, his trials and finally His crucifixion. With their eyes full of tears, their hearts full of pain and sorrow and their minds full of confusion, how could one possibly expect them to see and think clearly? Thomas probably thought, “they must have found the body stolen and imagined the rest, or perhaps they had imagined it all.”

Even later, when the Apostles explained that He had also appeared to them, it didn’t matter. Like the account of the women, he probably thought their story could also be easily explained away. And so, when approached by the others with this unbelievable news that their master was alive, Thomas replies with honest doubt.

And because of this doubt, nearly everyone has been rather harsh in their evaluation of poor old Thomas. We look at him with our disappointed glares much like a teacher would give to a bright student who has failed a test. “Come on Thomas, surely you could have done better then that. Surely you could have mustered up enough faith to believe.”

Most of us are not kind to Thomas. We look at him as a failure in faith. And yet, whether we will admit it or not, in many of us who are faithful, there exists a bit of a doubting Thomas. Far many of us are like Thomas then we would like to believe, or admit. We, too, have doubts at times.

We doubt that God cares for us or loves us when we go through trials. Sometimes we doubt our salvation because of some kind of doubt we have in ourselves, not seeing ourselves as God sees us. Many in this world even doubt the resurrection ever took place or the very existence of God.

We don’t DENY any of these, because if we did we probably wouldn’t be here. We don’t deny, we doubt. We want to believe 100% but also we wonder – what if? What if God doesn’t really care all that much about little ‘ol me? What if salvation is not really possible after all? What if Jesus really didn’t rise from the grave but remains buried in some unmarked and forgotten tomb somewhere in Israel? What if God doesn’t exist?

Perhaps the reason so many of us look down on Thomas and describe him with such harsh words such as “doubt” and “failure” and “unfaithful” is because when we see Thomas, we also see a reflection of a part of us, a part that we don’t like, a part that we wish wasn’t there. For who among us has NEVER, EVER felt some twinge of doubt creeping up in their thoughts?

Is the Bible true? God? Christ? What if it’s not? What if?

We all have doubts at one time or another, about one thing or another and the way most of us deal with our doubt is to suppress it. We ignore it and refuse to admit it to ourselves and we certainly refuse to admit our doubts to others. As if were dealing with some unforgivable crime or mistake, we hide from everyone any evidence of our doubt and we wear a mask of uncompromising faith as we pretend to believe without question. After all, what kind of Christian would we be, could we be, if we admitted that we had a lack of faith sometimes that resulted in doubt.

We treat doubt as if it’s some kind of spiritual disease and in a sense, that’s exactly what it is. But we make a mistake by dealing with doubt by suppressing and ignoring it. Pretending to be faithful and pretending not to have doubts will never solve the problem or heal the disease. Sooner or later, those same doubts will creep up on you again unless you prepare yourself properly.

When we treat doubt by ignoring it, we become like the man who feels a sharp pain in his chest, but refuses to call a doctor for help. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away. We feel the doubts. We are disturbed by our questions about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. We feel doubts and our response is to ignore it. Maybe the doubts will go away.

But doubts don’t go away on their own. They remain, especially if we ignore them. If we are hard on Thomas, if we look down on him, maybe it’s not because he, like us, felt the pain of doubt. Maybe we look down on him because he, unlike many of us, had the courage to confront his doubts head on.

Thomas was, indeed, a man of great courage. As we mentioned before, when Jesus announced his intention to go to Jerusalem and die, the reaction of Thomas was, “Let’s all go and die with Him.” And it was with courage that Thomas faced his doubts. He knew that ignoring these doubts would not make them go away. If anything was going to resolve them, it would be by facing them head on. “Unless I see the scars of the nails on His hands, and put my finger on those scars, and my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

One week after Thomas expressed his doubts, Jesus appeared to him and told him, “put your finger here, and look at my hands, reach out and put your hand in my side. Stop your doubting and believe.” And Thomas believed.

All his doubts were resolved. And not only that, but he was able to go beyond this and make a greater step of faith beyond what most of the other disciples had made.

Others had described the Risen Jesus as Rabbi, prophet, Messiah and king. But it took Thomas, who after having expressed and faced his doubts, was able to say with great faith and belief, “My Lord, and my God.”

Having faced his doubts, Thomas was able to resolve the questions of faith and doubt that had been with him. Having faced his doubts, he came out with a stronger faith then ever before.

Being free from doubt is a good thing and something to strive for. Jesus himself said, “Happy are those who believe without seeing!” But IF we have doubt, and most of us do on certain things, it is best to face them and search God’s Word for an answer rather then to ignore those doubts and hope they will simply disappear.

God gave us a beautiful mind and he wishes for us to use it. He doesn’t expect or even wish for blind faith. No one should believe just because someone told us to believe. God gave us His Word to answer the questions which, if not faced, become doubt. I believe it is God’s great desire that we find faith through knowledge and sometimes that knowledge is only found when we face out doubts head on. For only then will our faith grow and be nurtured to be a stronger, more realistic faith.

Thomas should no longer be seen as the one with the weakest faith. He should be seen, rather, as the one brave enough to confront his doubt. By Thomas’ example, we too can find the courage to confront those questions we dare not ask. God has offered Himself to us, to guide us and strengthen us by His Word. In that there is no doubt. Amen. 

No comments yet

Comments are closed