Death to Doubting Thomas
by Jason Wisdom
It is high time that we put “doubting Thomas” to death. What I mean is that we need to stop equating the apostle Thomas with the concept of doubt. Additionally, we need to stop assuming that all doubt is inherently negative.
For the majority of Christians–and many non-Christians who have adopted certain Christian idioms–there is a fundamental misunderstanding surrounding the account of Thomas’ famous refusal to believe in the resurrection of Jesus as recorded in John 20:24-29. The first verse and a half are commonly overlooked when discussing this story, and they could not be more important. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus made his first resurrection appearance. Thus, we are told, “the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” (20:25a). It is in this context that Thomas makes his well-known proclamation, “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” (20:25b). From this, he has acquired the enduring nickname, “doubting Thomas.” But I do not think that doubt was his real problem, and I think this misunderstanding has led many Christians to draw incorrect, negative conclusions concerning the nature of doubt. Consider the following story.*
Charlie was in the bed unusually late for a Monday morning. His wife said, “Charlie, you need to get up, you’re going to be late for work.” Charlie said, “I can’t. I’m dead.” His wife assured him that he was not dead and told him again to get up. Charlie refused to budge. “I’m sorry honey, I’m dead,” he insisted. His wife decided to call the doctor. The doctor arrived and took Charlie’s vitals. The doctor assured Charlie that he was in perfect health and certainly not dead. Unfortunately, Charlie still refused to move. The doctor told Charlie’s wife, “Your husband needs a different type of doctor.”
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Charlie’s wife called a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist arrived and asked, “How do you feel Charlie?” Charlie said, “I feel dead.” The psychiatrist assured him that his mind was playing tricks on him–he was very much alive. Even so, Charlie remained unconvinced. The psychiatrist told his wife, “It seems like the only thing to do is to call the undertaker.” Charlie’s wife called the undertaker. The undertaker arrived quickly, loaded up Charlie’s body and drove to the morgue. The undertaker wheeled Charlie into a room with several corpses. He said, “Charlie, I want to show you something. Did you know that dead people don’t bleed?” Charlie said, “I didn’t know that.” The undertaker pulled out a needle and pricked the thumbs of two different corpses. “See Charlie, no blood,” he said. Then, the undertaker used the needle to prick Charlie’s thumb. A red drop of blood quickly formed. Charlie was amazed. “What do you know,” he said, “dead people DO bleed!”
Would you say that Charlie’s fundamental problem was doubt? Of course you wouldn’t. You would say that he stubbornly refused to believe the good evidence that he was given. Now, let’s look back at Thomas. Did he have any good reason to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead? Absolutely. The other disciples were telling him that they had seen Jesus resurrected with their own eyes. And there is no doubt in my mind that they probably said a lot more than what is recorded by John…