The Benefit of the Doubt

I’ve always felt badly for Thomas. He is the disciple of Jesus whose claim to fame was his inability to believe the report of the other disciples. He said; “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (John 20:25b).  

Thomas struggled with certainty, and his struggle is recorded in the Bible for all of us to read.  The other disciples are exhilarated with the news that Jesus had been resurrected, but not Thomas.  He seemed to be naturally inclined toward doubt, or better said - at least he is honest enough to express his doubts.

I’ve often wondered why Thomas wasn’t affirmed for his active mind that was prone toward facts and his need to confirm a report. After all, there are many people who will believe almost anything! Not Thomas! He had a need to know and he needed to know for himself.

Ever been there? Have you ever had moments when faith didn’t come very easily for you? It’s a tough place to be when everyone else appears to be full of faith, and you’re full of questions. Or have you ever been in a faith community that had an unwritten rule that went something like this—don’t ask questions!

 On one occasion, John the Baptist expressed his own doubts and he risked asking a big question?  “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2-3).  What? This is the same John who heard the voice from heaven declaring over Jesus at his baptism; “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

 How could John doubt that Jesus was the Messiah? Did he forget his moment in the water?  What about the speaking voice from heaven? Why is John doubting? John is doubting, because John is human.  John is doubting because his experience of being left in prison doesn’t line up with his expectations of a ‘rescuing Messiah.’ We all have moments when doubt seems to win the day, especially when our experience of life collides with our expectations of God. Yet, we hold onto this reality—on the other-side of our doubt and disappointment is a deeper faith!

Dr. Greg Boyd wrote a book called; “The Benefit of the Doubt—Dethroning the Idol of Certainty.”  He wrote—“the opposite of faith is not doubt…but certainty!” Faith always lives in the tension of knowing and hoping.  Knowing is for another day, but trusting is for now. Jesus said to John; “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matthew 11:6). In other words; ‘blessed is the person who doesn’t reject Jesus or turn away from him simply because of a moment or season of doubt.’

The name Thomas (called Didymus), means “twin.”  Thomas had two dynamics at play in his experience—faith and doubt. There’s a sense in which each of us has a faith side and a doubting side—we believe, but we struggle to believe too. Denying our doubts doesn’t lead to strong faith, it leads to pretend faith. 

There is no shame in doubt! After all, it’s the other-side of who we are!

—Written by: Dave Larmour