I am a thinker, and a doubter. I have always thought deeply about things, and doubts have often followed those deep thoughts. My doubts about the Christian faith, however, began to intensify greatly when I was taking classes in college at the University of Alabama. I was challenged to think about my Christian faith in ways I had never been challenged before. In retrospect, I can see where my faith is stronger now than it has ever been, but at the time it was quite painful. Having doubts can be painful and can lead to despair because you don’t know what to believe or who to trust. Can you think of a time in your life when you’ve encountered a crisis of faith brought on by intellectual doubts and skepticism? If so, then keep reading!
Oftentimes when we are going through difficulties we will have the feeling or the thought, “Am I the only one struggling with this?” I can remember sitting in church history class in seminary and struggling with a particular question in my head. While I don’t remember the specific doubt or question that I had, what I do remember is that our professor was speaking of some monk in the Middle Ages that was having the exact doubt I was having! Here I was in the 21st century struggling with the same question that this monk from the Middle Ages was having, and he’d already thought about it and had answered it! This was quite comforting to me to know that not only were there, possibly, others alive today that may be struggling with this question, but that there have been others over the centuries that have struggled with this issue as well! You are not alone in your struggles, and you are certainly not alone with your questions and doubts! Christianity has been around for 2000 years, and it is quite unlikely that we are going to ask too many questions about Christianity that haven’t been asked before.
One of the great myths with Christianity is that it is resistant to doubt and that questioning it is “certainly unacceptable.” While there may be some today within particular religious circles that may frown upon questions, that’s certainly not the case with Jesus Christ. Jesus welcomed questions and even provided evidence for some that doubted within the New Testament.
Thomas was a doubter if there ever was one. When the other disciples had seen Jesus after He’d risen, they came back to Thomas and told him about what they’d seen. Thomas, however, was not so easily convinced. Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the marks of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Wow! What a skeptic! Thomas said, “I won’t believe it until I see it!”
I find Thomas’ doubts completely understandable and believable. If I were in his shoes, I’m certain I would say the same thing! Thomas wasn’t a dunce; he knew that dead people didn’t come back to life! One of my professors at UA made this same point when pondering the resurrection of Christ: “We all know that dead people don’t come back to life!” Point well taken! I have since learned that one can build a good case upon the circumstantial evidence that Christ physically, and literally, came out of the tomb after being dead for three days. Nonetheless, we must be sympathetic towards those who would doubt the claim that a dead man came back to life. Jude 22 says, “And have mercy on those who doubt.” We must show a little mercy to those who are struggling, intellectually, with the Christian faith, and view them with compassion since despair springing from our doubts is not a very happy place to be.
Let us look now at how Jesus responded to Thomas. Eight days later Jesus appeared to Thomas and we don’t see Jesus scolding Thomas like this: “Thomas, I can’t believe that you’d be so hard-headed and hard-hearted to actually demand evidence that a dead person has come back to life!” When Jesus appeared to Thomas, He, instead of scolding him, actually responded to his request positively and gave him evidence: “Then he [Jesus] 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” (John 20:27).
Notice that Jesus wasn’t discouraging Thomas in his unbelief and desiring for him to not believe, but He was encouraging Thomas, instead, to believe, because of the evidence He Himself was providing!
What is the point? The point is to simply say that having questions is OK and that Jesus can and does provide evidence for the doubter. We must find comfort in the fact that the founder of Christianity allows for the asking of questions. I would encourage you to read a sector of Christian teaching called “Apologetics” which deals with the doubts and questions believers, and unbelievers, have. For a start I would recommend the works of Lee Strobel (“The Case for Christ” and “The Case for Faith” and his other “Case” books) as well as Frank Turek and Norman Geisler’s book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.” These books will show mercy and compassion to the doubter, as our Lord did to Thomas.
Billy Reinhardt is the pastor of Riverside Heights Baptist Church in Tallassee, AL. He lives in Tallassee, AL with his wife, Jessica, and their four children.