Why Did Thomas Doubt?

We find ourselves in the twentieth chapter of John. Our reading begins when the resurrected Jesus appears to ten of the twelve disciples had experienced the resurrected Jesus. The two who were missing were Judas Iscariot, who had committed suicide, and Thomas, who was absent. We do not know where Thomas was, but we know where he should have been there. He should have been with the other disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus. The others must have told him about their experience with the resurrected Jesus, but their words were not enough. When the others tell him of their experience, he has his doubts. In verse 25, Thomas says something he must have come to regret. He said, “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 it.”  For generations, people have judged Thomas for those words.

Except for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Lord, no other disciple has been judged more harshly by history than Thomas. It is truly unfair. His life was filled with more than that single sentence. Just think about it for a moment. He was selected by Jesus himself to be one of the disciples. That means he traveled with Jesus for three years. He heard the lessons. He felt his authority. He saw the miracles. He was excited on Palm Sunday and devastated on Good Friday. Tradition tells us after Pentecost, he went to India to tell them about the greatest life that ever lived, Jesus! Even his death had meaning. Tradition tells us, he died in service to the Lord, martyred with a spear. He had an incredible life, but we remember him for one sentence, “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 it.”  Why is it we all remember that one negative? Could it be that we all point to that one moment of doubt because it was the one moment, we are the most like Thomas? You are not the first person to wrestle with doubt, and our generation is not the first to wrestle with doubt.

American psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was 22 years old when he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1924. While there, he participated in a seminar organized to explore religious doubts. Rogers later said of the group, “The majority of members…in thinking their way through questions they had raised, thought themselves right out of religious work. I was one.”  This is the point: Ours is not the first generation to have questions and doubts. And ours will not be the last. Let me ask you these two questions: Do you have a few questions for God? Do you have a few doubts? There is nothing wrong with questions and doubts. These are signs of a growing faith. However, this is the question of the day:

Why did Thomas doubt? Throughout the centuries, many have tried to answer that question. I have my theories. Maybe you have your theories? James W. Moore (1938-2019) was an author and the pastor of the St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas for many years, has his theories. It is his theories I want to look at today. I believe they have some merit. They speak to me; I hope they speak to you too.

Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he had dropped out?  In other words, Thomas had some doubts because Thomas was not present. The scripture says it clearly. Let me say it again. Thomas was missing when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the other ten disciples. If Thomas had been present, then he would have experienced the resurrected Jesus. Then, he would not have doubted. In other words, he doubted because he was absent. That is worth considering. We still see it today. How many people do you know who have dropped out of church? How many people do you know who have doubts because they have poor personal theology? They have doubts because they do not understand God’s ways. How many church dropouts do you know?

When I was young, my best friend was Jimmy Thompson. I have talked about him in the past. He lived about five doors up from my family’s home and we did everything together. I liked being at his house because we were never supervised. He liked coming to my house because it was clean. Every time my parents said, “Russell, you can bring a friend,” I brought Jimmy Thompson. Our friendship came to an end when we were sophomores in high school. His mother was going through an ugly divorce. Jimmy rebelled and was sent to live with his sister, Muriel. She did her best, but she had her own problems. Jimmy decided to drop out of school one day, and he never returned. The last time Jimmy and I talked, I said, “Jimmy, you have to go back to school.” He said, “Russ, anything I need to know I can teach myself.” (Can you imagine? He had a ninth-grade education.) I have not seen Jimmy in years, but others tell me he has a hard life. The best job he has ever had was bagging groceries at the corner market. I think and pray for Jimmy every May 30, his birthday. I believe his life would have been easier if he had not dropped out of school.

How many people do you know who have dropped out of church? I cannot blame them 100% of the time. The church is not a perfect place. The truth be told, there are times church is downright ugly. There are times when we fight amongst ourselves. There are times when we gossip about one another. There are times when small groups like to run the whole show. There have been times when pastors do some horrible things. I know those things, but I also know this. There is no excuse for dropping out of church. Despite all our problems, church is still the best place to learn about God. If you do not go to church, then where do you learn about God? If you are not going to church, then you are self-taught, like Jimmy Thompson. You will be just as successful in your spiritual development as Jimmy Thompson was in life. Thomas doubted because he was not present. For a short time, he had dropped out. Church dropouts are missing the whole Christian experience. No wonder they have doubts and questions. They simply do not know God’s ways.

Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he gave in. In other words, Thomas had some doubts because he let science become his final answer. You cannot really blame him. The resurrection of Jesus is a miracle! It cannot be explained by science. If you do not believe in miracles, then you cannot believe in the resurrection. Do you know anyone who says people who believe in miracles are uninformed or uneducated? Do you know anyone who has given in?

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the chief writer of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States, gave in to science. He had his Bible re-written. He wanted everything that could not be scientifically explained taken out. Just think about it for a moment. Jefferson dismissed the virgin birth. Jefferson dismissed the healing stories. Jefferson dismissed the resurrection, which, I believe, dismissed him from the Christian faith. I have seen copies of his Bible. Jefferson’s Bible is approximately one-third the size of your Bible and mine. Just think of the things that he missed!

I hope you do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that science is bad. I am not against science. I believe it is one of the paths to truth and knowledge. However, I do not believe it is the only path to truth and knowledge. Some of the most powerful forces in our world today cannot be explained by science. Can anyone here give me the scientific formula for love? Can anyone here give me the scientific formula for honesty or courage? There is no scientific formula for faith, goodness, or humility. There is not a scientific explanation for patience, self-control, or kindness. You cannot put mercy or grace into a test tube. Those things cannot be scientifically explained, but we see examples of those things every day. Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he gave in to science? Science is good, but it is not the final answer. The final answer is always God. Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he dropped out or gave in.

Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he gave up. In other words, Thomas had some doubts because he let death be the final answer. The scripture does not tell us where Thomas was when Jesus appeared to the others. However, I have a good guess. I believe, he was doing what many do when they are upset. They walk to get some fresh air, clear their minds, and think. If you use your sanctified imagination you can see him walking down every back street of Jerusalem. He is trying to answer the question, “How did it go so wrong, so fast?” As he walked, he couldn’t believe it was over. He was devastated. He thought it was over when Jesus died! However, he was wrong. It was not over. It was just the beginning. Why? Because, Jesus was not dead. He had been resurrected; he was alive! Do you know anyone who lets death be the final word? Do you know anyone who has given up?

Twenty-five years ago, today, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh attacked a federal building in downtown Oklahoma City. It is hard to believe so much time has passed. The picture that caught my attention from that day was of a firefighter carrying a little girl away from the destruction. We found out later that the little girl was one year old. She celebrated her first and only birthday the day before the bombing. Reporters asked that little girl’s mother, “How can you go on?” She responded, “The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that my little girl is in heaven. Someday, I am going to see her again.” Can anyone here relate to that mother? Your life would come to a grinding halt, if not for the belief that you will see your loved one again? Perhaps Thomas doubted because he was overcome with grief. Never forget! Death is not the final answer. The final answer is Jesus! I do not know why Thomas doubted, but he did. Do not be hard on him. We all have questions and doubts.

Years ago, I received a phone call from a young man by the name of Derrick. He was a student at Youngstown State University, who was enrolled in a religion class. His assignment was to call a minister in the area and ask some questions. I was more than happy to answer his questions. However, before the first question was asked Derrick wanted to make a confession. He said, “Rev. Adams, I don’t want to scare you, but I have some doubts about the faith. I have a few questions.” I said, “Derrick, the fact that you have questions doesn’t scare me. The only ones who frighten me are the people that say they have all the answers.” Voltaire (1694-1778) once said? He said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”  So, ask all the questions you want. It is the sign of a growing faith.

Any Questions?

Years ago, The Boston Globe, carried a daily column designed to answer their readers’ questions. From those questions, the paper generated a list of ten unanswerable questions. Here’s one:

“I am nine years of age and have a cat that eats regularly and needs to go on a diet. He also eats mice when he is out. This is my question. How many calories in a mouse?”

That is an excellent question. Can anyone here answer that question, how many calories in a mouse? Some questions are harder to answer than others. In our scripture reading for today, Job asked God a hard question. If you are ready to look at this morning’s text say, “Amen!”

We find ourselves today in the thirtieth chapter of Job. Much has already happened. When our story began, Job had a good life. He was rich in resources and relationships. He feared God and shunned evil. He was the greatest man in the East. Even God is impressed with him. That is when everything seemed to go wrong. God may have been impressed with Job but not the Dark One. He is convinced his pious ways would pass once hardship entered his life. Sad but true, God grants Satan permission to test Job. The tests are not easy, they are hard. Over a short period of time, he loses everything. Job’s money is gone. His oxen, donkeys and lambs are taken by foreign raiders, who killed most of the servants. His relationships are gone. All ten of his children, seven sons and three daughters, are gone in an instant by a mighty wind from the wilderness, while partying at the eldest son’s home. Even his good looks are gone. He is covered with painful boils from head to toe. He loses everything, except for his charming wife. She adds nothing to his life. Too bad the raiders didn’t take her too. Thank goodness for his friends. Job was fortunate. He had three true friends. There is nothing exceptional about them, but their friendship. They hear about Job’s woes and bring nothing but their sympathy. For days they sit with Job and say nothing. It is Job who begins to speak. It is his words who give his friends the license to speak. Their words are not helpful. In one way or another, they blame Job for his hardships. He was being punished for his secret sins. Their bad advice is not helpful. How much bad advice have you received lately? That brings us to today’s reading.

Job is not just frustrated with His friends. He is frustrated with God too. You can hear the frustration in his words. Do not read the words in a monotone. Read the words with full emotions. Especially verse twenty, “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” In others words, Job is mad at God. He doesn’t understand why his good life has been taken from him. He is a victim and he has done nothing wrong. Have you ever played the role of an innocent victim? You have done nothing wrong, but your life is a disaster? You ask God why, because there is nothing else to do. Let me say this clearly. Asking questions is not a sign of a lack of faith. It is a sign of a growing faith. Voltaire (1694-1778) once said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” I don’t know why people struggle with this simple point.

In my station in life, I have sat with many people in times of hardships. The details of the stories change, but the theme is constant. The person has been struggling for some time. They are both physically and emotionally exhausted. In the corner of some room, we cover the details one more time. In a moment of true bravery and honesty, the person will look at me and proclaim these words. “I know we are suppose to be faithful and not question God’s ways, but I do not understand why this is happening.” I appreciate the words of the person, but their theology is completely wrong. There is nothing wrong with questioning God. God gave us a brain, and He expects us to use it. Asking questions is not a sign of a lack of faith. It is a sign of a growing faith. You are just trying to discover God’s myserteous ways. Consider this with me.

Some of the greatest characters in the Bible asked questions. The disciples asked Jesus questions. They asked why they couldn’t cast out the demon? (Mt. 17:19) They asked where they were going to eat the Seder? (Mt. 26:17) They asked what certain parables meant. (Lk. 8:9) John the Baptist asked Jesus why he came to be baptized him. (Mt. 3:14) Peter asked, how many times should I forgive? (Mt. 18:21) Martha asked Jesus, why he didn’t care she was stuck with all the work? (Lk. 10:40) Even Pilate asked Jesus a question, are you King of the Jews? I could go on but I won’t. You get the point. Many asked questions in the Bible. Feel free to ask all the questions you want. Your questions means you are simply trying to understand God’s ways. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009) once said, “Wise men doesn’t give right answers, he poses the right questions.”  

I am convinced one of the reasons we come to church is to get some of life’s basic questions answered. We don’t come to church to be involved with another fundraiser. You can have a yard sale and benefit yourself. We don’t come to church to help our community. That is why service clubs exist. We don’t come to church to make new friends. You can go to your favorite coffee counter and make friends. Church is much deeper. We come to church to get the answers life most basic questions.

  1. Does God exist? It is a fair question because our world is filled with so many complex problems. Things like climate change, conflict, inequality, poverty, government corruption, lack of education and opportunity. At times, it seems our world is out of control and we wonder why God doesn’t do something! Have you ever asked the question, does God exist?
  • Why do I exist? That is a question that haunts each one of us. We don’t just want to live and die. We want to more than consumers. Have you ever wondered why you are in this world? Have you ever wondered why you were born and what God wants me to do? Have you ever asked the question, why do I exist?
  • Where will I spend eternity? No one gets out of this world alive. As sure as I am, each one of us was born. I am sure each one of us is going to die. Without Jesus, there is no hope of salvation, but with Jesus salvation is possible. All you have to do is accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Heaven wouldn’t be the same for me without you. Have you ever asked the question, where will I spend eternity?

Church is a good place to get good answers to hard questions. Let me end with a simple story.

For the past two weeks, Kathryn and I have been in Scotland. Mark Twain once said, “Traveling broadens a man.” Today, he would have said, “Traveling broadens a person.” He was correct. Scotland was a bucket list trip for us, and it was worth every cent. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed every moment. We traveled has far north and west as the Isle of Skye. The landscape was breath-taking. We went as far south and east as Edinburgh. The history was rich. However, the best part of Scotland was the people. They maybe the nicest people in the world.

On the day, we were on the Isle of Skye. We explored the island by signing up for an all-day tour. Our tour leader and van driver was a thick accented man by the name of Bill. To say the last, Bill was a free spirit. He wore old jeans hanging on boney hips and an old faded t-shirt displaying the company’s logo. His long and unkept hair kept falling in his face. His face exposed his age. Bill was in his seventies. He had an outgoing personality and was well informed on a variety of topics. He told us about local history, geology and politics. At every stop along our journey, he encouraged people to ask questions. My wife is not afraid to ask a good question.

Somewhere along the way, Kathryn asked about the religious practices of the people in that area. Bill responded by saying, “That’s a good question.” He wasn’t wrong. It was a good question. This is the truth. In the past religion, Protestant versus Roman Catholic, divided Scotland. That was about five hundred years ago. Religion was one of Mary Queen of Scots problems. Today, religion has no influence on Scottish society. As a matter of fact, most of the church buildings in Europe are owned by the government. The reason is simple. The worshipping congregations are so small, they can’t afford to maintain the ancient buildings. The government needs those ancient churching building to maintain the tourist industry. Tourism is the second largest industry in Scotland. According to the Scottish government, 51% of Scots have no religious affiliation and only 3.7% attend church on a regular basis. In America, according to the Pew Research Group, 37% attend church regularly. Kathryn’s question about the religious practices of Scots was a good question. Can I ask you a good question?

If you could ask God only one question, what would it be? Would it be a question about our complex world? Would it be a question about our complex country? Would it be a question about your complex life? Would it be a question about your eternity? Never forget it. Questions are a sign of a growing faith. What would you ask God? Do you remember the quote from Voltaire? He once said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”