His name is Thomas.
He is a simple, first-century Jew. Dark-skinned, bearded, probably poor like the other eleven followers of this Teacher named Jesus. And his Teacher is dead. Executed on a cross, buried in a tomb three days ago. He’s gone.
Except Thomas’s best friends, the men he’s lived with for three years, are swearing Jesus is alive, that somehow even death can’t kill Him. “We’ve SEEN Him!” they say.
And Thomas wants to believe it, more than anything he’s ever wanted in his life. But he can’t. The questions are too many and too loud, and it’s too good to be true, like a heat-mirage of a lake appearing to someone lost in the desert. So Thomas insists, no, no, he won’t—can’t–believe unless Jesus shows up, real enough for Thomas to touch His scars.
A few days pass and the disciples gather for a meal in their locked hideout. No one sees it happen, but one moment they’re alone, and the next moment Jesus is there, fixing His eyes on Thomas. Holding out two living, scarred hands, He says, “Put your finger here…reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
And Thomas, falling to his knees, believes.
However, he’s known to history as Doubting Thomas—a negative title, like Lazy Thomas or Cheating Thomas—when a better name, really, would be Human Thomas. Few things are more universal to the Christian (and human) experience than doubt. But most of us are uncomfortable with doubting. In a sad irony, the church today is sometimes friendlier to pride, selfishness, materialism, hypocrisy and twisted doctrine than it is to doubt.
We run away from admitting serious questions: about God’s character, about the way our salvation works, about the questions the Bible doesn’t answer. Why? Are we afraid of the answers? Are we afraid that there aren’t answers? Do we just not want to admit to being “weak”?
I don’t know the answer, but there’s an interesting connection the Bible seems to make between times of doubt and being in a wilderness (literal and figurative). Which makes sense, because the wilderness is bleak and empty. It’s a place that feels like exile. Like you’re removed from the rest of humanity and green hills and blue skies are just a dream too good to be true.
And yet the wilderness can be an incredible opportunity for learning and growth. Every life spent walking towards Jesus will have to take the road through doubt and questions, again and again. So a few things to hang onto when you find yourself walking that road:
Be honest about doubting.
It’s crucial to be open about doubts, both on our own and with the family of believers, because bringing things into the light weakens the Enemy’s power. Satan is at his best when our struggles are kept secret in the dark.
Two lies that Satan likes to use against us are firstly, that we’re alone in our doubts. After all, “good” Christians are rock-solid in their faith at all times and we are the only believer in 2000 years who just can’t get it together, right? Nope. Jude 1:22 says “have mercy on those who doubt,” and it turns out, that’s all of us. Ask your friends, your parents, your pastors. Google “Christians who doubted” and watch the long list of impressive names like Mother Teresa, Augustine, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon pop up. The Christian road will lead you to the wilderness at some point. We’re a community of doubters whether we admit it or not, so why not admit and help each other?
The second lie is that doubt is a failure of faith. This is where it’s important to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt questions God. Unbelief rejects Him. In a lovely paradox, honest doubt is actually an expression of faith, because if we bring our doubts fearlessly to God, we are trusting that He is enough to answer them.
Put in the time and effort to work through your doubts.
Throughout the Bible, God uses the wilderness as a place of refining for His children, something like a spiritual power wash where you shed the dirt and grime in your soul. The goal is to come out cleaner and stronger. So doubt is a problem only if we decide to stay there.
Tim Keller writes, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”
Just as honest doubt is an expression of faith, honest doubt is also an opportunity to build our faith. So put in the hard work. Soak yourself in Scripture and prayer. Study theology, science, archaeology, ethics. Find wise Christians—whether it’s your nextdoor neighbor or an early church father—and learn from them. Use all your God-given intellect to think and search for truth. Build your house of faith, strong enough that you can both withstand the storms and invite the skeptics inside.
And most importantly, understand that often the Answer we need isn’t the answer we ask for.
Along with the biblical pattern of people walking through the wilderness is a pattern of God’s response to their doubt. And His response, over and over, is that He comes to meet them.
Moses wanders the Sinai desert for decades until one day a flaming bush appears in his path. Jacob spends all night wrestling with an “angel” until the sun rises and he realizes Who he’s been tussling with. Job demands an answer for his suffering and “out of a whirlwind” God addresses him directly (for four chapters!). Elijah, running for his life with his country falling apart, is told by God to wait on a mountaintop for Him—and He comes in a whisper.
There must’ve been so many things they wanted to ask. And I can only imagine the questions buzzing in Thomas’s brain. “How did You rise from the dead? What does this mean? What about that giant stone that was blocking the tomb? Did You just walk THROUGH the wall, Lord!?”
And Jesus holds out His scarred hands and provides no answers, only Himself.
Often, that is the answer.
When a little kid wonders if they’re safe, if there’s a monster outside, and their parents cuddle them tight, that doesn’t answer the question. The kid still doesn’t know whether the monster’s outside or not. But the presence of Mom or Dad is enough to make their child feel safe.
After all, ultimately our doubts aren’t really uncertainties about how or why God does things but who He is. At the root of those questions is a burning need to know that He is real, He is loving, He is just, He is all-powerful. Because we live in an ugly world, and we’re scared that either He’s too good to be true, or He isn’t actually good at all.
So Moses says “How do I do this?” and the burning bush answers “I am.” Job screams “why?” at the sky. And the sky opens and a voice says “Who are you, and who am I?” Elijah stands with his grief and fear on the mountain, and hears that still small voice.
One of my all-time favorite books is C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, about a woman named Orual who fights a lifelong battle against the God of her world and His perceived injustices against her. At the end of her life, Orual writes: “I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”
Thomas says it more simply, “My Lord and my God!”
We can trust absolutely that our doubts and questions will never truly go unanswered. Because if we search, we’ll find Him, the Answer beyond words.
So be Elijah and climb the mountain wanting to hear what He sounds like. Be Jacob and wrestle with God till the daylight comes. Be Moses, stuttering questions in the desert. Be Thomas, asking to see his Lord. Walk your wilderness road of doubt bravely and with an open heart, knowing that one day a bush will catch fire, a whisper will come through the wind, and He will be there.