I’ve always identified with Doubting Thomas.
Despite being raised in church and never straying too far from my Christian upbringing, I’ve gone through valleys of doubt. There have been periods in my life where I have questioned the truth of Christianity and the existence of God. I’m sure you have too.
When I was attending Pentecostal churches I called into question many of the charismatic displays I saw. Now I am skeptical of some claims of miracle-working icons or relics. I need proof that often I may never get.
This past Sunday, one week after Pascha we celebrate Antipascha, also known as the Sunday of St. Thomas. On that day we honor the follower of Christ who has come to be known as the first Christian skeptic. But as our priest said in his homily, the man called Doubting Thomas has gotten a bad rap.
Thomas did not doubt the claims that Christ had risen any more than did the other Apostles. They all hid from the authorities and refused to believe the claims of the women who first saw the empty tomb. Thomas expressed something that perhaps all the others were thinking – that he wanted to see it for himself.
“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Thomas because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
God understands our doubt. In His earthly ministry He dealt with men who wanted miracle after miracle to serve as indisputable proof of His claims. He was in their very midst, and could not convince them because He did not fit their conception of a Messiah.
But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
As Christians there will be times we doubt our faith and our understanding of Truth. Unlike Thomas, however, we will not see the risen Christ in this life and touch His wounds. And yet we are called blessed, because we have not seen and still believed. We call Him Lord not because we have felt His sides, but because His tomb is empty.
Yet there will still be doubt and skepticism. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh tells us we should understand that our doubt comes from our own inability to conceive of the greatness of God:
Each one of us has some experience of God. This experience is trustworthy and should not be rejected. It may be imperfect, but it is pure. But it is not the fullness of knowledge of God. Then a question begins to creep in. I conceive of God in such-and-such a way. Is He such in reality? But what is being doubted here? My conception, not God. It is like a question for the scientist: is this the objective truth or is it his conception thereof?
Therefore, when doubt arises in us it means that I have outgrown my incomplete conception of God and my imperfect knowledge of Him.
God is saying to me: “Yes, now you have come to see all this. But look at Me: I am greater than that. You cannot be satisfied with the picture you have made for yourself, because it is as small as you yourself, as your mind, as your education, as your imagination. Open up, and pose the question: what might others think about this? What other answers might there be? Do not be afraid: I will not be offended if you call Me into question, because you are not questioning Me, as such, but your own conception of Me.”
What then? If we believe, even in times of doubt, we must act on our belief. How? By doing for the least of us, as Christ commanded. If we believe, we will do His will, as stated by St. Gregory the Great:
There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold in our hearts One we have not seen in the flesh. We are included in these words, but only if we follow up our faith with good works. The true believer practices what he believes. But of those who pay only lip service to faith, Paul has this to say: ‘They profess to know God, but they deny him in their works.’
Therefore James says: ‘Faith without works is dead.’
Let us seek together to let our works overcome our doubt. Lord have mercy.