If you are a Christian doubting whether God exists (a difficult and upsetting experience), the story of Thomas’ own faith crisis is simply a must-read. Thomas was one of Christ’s 12 “full-time” disciples. While Jesus had other disciples, the 12 were with him on a far more regular basis. Other disciples were present when Jesus taught or ministered in public; the 12 had the privilege of spending lots of time with Jesus in private. For three years they ate, travelled, relaxed and lodged with him. They witnessed more miracles and heard more of Jesus’ teaching than anyone else. They alone saw him calm the waves and wind with a simple command. They had more reason than anyone to believe Christ was both Messiah and God.
What to expect from God when you struggle with doubts
Jesus said, “To whom much was given, of him much will be required.” Well the 12 were given more than everyone else. So, one would expect that Jesus would have required their unwavering faith at the end of the three years. But he didn’t. Despite all Thomas had seen and heard, he had flipped from faith to unbelief when Christ was killed. Listen to what he said to the other disciples when they told him Jesus was alive and had appeared to them:
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
These are the words of a hard-hearted, utterly disappointed man. And they are illogical in light of all the evidence Thomas had. Jesus had raised the dead (Lazarus) and performed many miracles before his eyes. Now, all his fellow disciples are saying that they have seen Jesus, and yet Thomas chooses the path of unbelief. It doesn’t make sense. I would’ve thought Jesus would judge Thomas for his unbelief and not reveal himself to him. Instead, this is what he does:
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus’ patient lovingkindness with Thomas is breath-taking. John records numerous places where Jesus (or the Father) does things “in order that you may believe”. He delayed in responding to the news of Lazarus’ sickness “in order that you may believe”. He told his disciples, “I tell you things before they happen, in order that when they do happen you may believe that I am He”. And he does something similar again for Thomas.
God's heart towards doubters
God does not stand at a distance and say “believe in me”. Rather, he is one who comes to us and gives us reasons to believe in him. Indeed, that was one of the purposes of Jesus’ earthly life – to reveal the Father to us that we may believe in Him. Jesus said to his disciples:
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
I am so encouraged by how unexceptional Christ’s disciples were. They were so real… so easy to relate to. And yet Jesus chose them. Having chosen them he displayed great patience and grace in working with their weaknesses. If you are currently struggling in your faith, know that Christ is patient with you and is firmly for you. Here is what he said to Peter before Peter denied knowing him:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus knew Peter would deny him and turn away from him in his hour of need, yet he was still for him. Before Peter had even failed him, Jesus had prayed for him to return to him. That is amazing grace and it is available for you because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is impartial; he didn’t give Peter special treatment.
How will your story end?
If you are struggling with your faith, you are in good company. We have seen that two of Jesus’ closest disciples went through severe faith crises. And yet they came through them thanks to the patience and commitment of Christ to finish the work he had begun in them (Phil 1:6). Christ began a good work in you; find comfort in his promise to bring it to completion despite your failings.