Formations 04.24.2022: In Praise of Doubt

John 20:19-31

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is too big to fit in a single story. Mark tells us about the women at the tomb and how the angel told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but then the story abruptly comes to an end. The early church found this so unsatisfying that not one but two different expansions were added to the Gospel to flesh out the story. Matthew, Luke, and John each tell numerous stories about the resurrection which are not quite the same as each other, but which contribute to the account of a wild, adrenaline-packed day of revelations and divine appearances.

It’s not enough, then, that John tells us about Peter and the Beloved Disciple racing to the tomb or even about Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus and at first confusing him with the gardener. We also have today’s text, a curious yet powerful story about what happened later that day.

On the evening of the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples as they are hiding behind locked doors. He commissions them to go into the world just as the Father sent him, and he imparts to them the Holy Spirit.

But that’s not all. John then drops this significant detail: Thomas was absent from this meeting and doubted the disciples’ story.

Perhaps more than any other Gospel, John loves to tell us the stories of individuals who encounter Christ. It begins with Jesus’ exchange with Nathanael in chapter 1, but others are soon added: Nicodemus (ch. 3), the Samaritan woman (ch. 4), the lame man at the pool (ch. 5), and so on. Each of these people’s lives are changed because Jesus crossed their path. Even Pontius Pilate is different—I hesitate to say “better”—because of his lengthy exchange with Jesus in John 18–19.

So now we come to Thomas. He is sometimes called “doubting Thomas,” but can we admit that we would probably have been right there with him in his doubt? People don’t just rise up from the grave, after all! Doubting such a story in the absence of compelling evidence is a rational reaction, and I would venture to say it is worthy of praise.

At any rate, Thomas is there a week later when Jesus appears again. Note, however, that Jesus never scolds Thomas for his doubts. On the contrary, he honors them by offering Thomas the evidence he seeks. Isn’t that just like Jesus! The one who hosted Nicodemus in the middle of the night, the one who sat with the Samaritan woman and asked her for a drink of water, the one who wept with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’s tomb and who called Mary Magdalene by name, addresses Thomas in his time of doubt and offers him the opportunity to inspect the wounds of the crucifixion.

Thomas responds with the highest confession of Christ in the Fourth Gospel, if not in the entire New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

Could it be that, rather than something to be ashamed of, our times of doubt can actually strengthen our faith? That may be something worth pondering as we continue through this Easter season.

Discussion

• Do you find it hard sometimes to believe? Why do you think this is?
• What does Jesus offer us in our unbelief?
• In verse 29, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who have not seen and yet believe. How can we embrace this blessing for ourselves?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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