By Renae Kranz
Have you ever doubted something was true or that it actually happened or could happen? Maybe you hadn’t seen enough evidence to convince you, or the person making the claim wasn’t as trustworthy as you’d hope.
Doubt can drive us to seek out the truth and stretch our beliefs. Or, it can haunt our thoughts and drive us away from the truth instead. Doubt is tricky.
Doubt is so tricky in fact, I need to clarify what I mean by doubt right from the beginning. I don’t mean doubt as a willful rejection of belief but rather a questioning of a difficulty in belief. To simplify, think of doubt as we’ll discuss here as questioning with the desire and openness to know the truth.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the most famous of doubters.
St. Thomas the Apostle is best known for doubting the resurrection of Jesus. At the same time, he is also known for his great faith once he saw Jesus resurrected. Can we believe with less proof than Thomas had?
What we know about St. Thomas
We don’t know a lot about Thomas. We might assume he was born in Galilee, and we know he was a Jew. Other than that, his life before his time with Jesus is all unknown. We don’t even know how he came to follow Jesus, much less become one of the Twelve Apostles.
Thomas’s first words in the Bible appear in the Gospel of John (Jn 11:16). Jesus tells the apostles he intends to travel to Judea to visit Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus. The Jews had recently tried to stone Jesus in the area he intended to travel through, so the apostles were understandably worried about the trip.
Thomas’ courage is evident in this passage. Rather than stay behind, he says to the other apostles, “Let us also go to die with him.” Regardless of his doubt after the Resurrection, he also had great courage, which would help him in his mission after Pentecost.
Thomas is heard from again just before the Last Supper. Jesus tells the apostles he will prepare a place for them: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way” (Jn 14:2-4).
Thomas then asks Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). Thomas gets to the heart of it here on behalf of all of us. Wouldn’t you have been confused by Jesus’ words? He wants to understand, but like the other apostles, he just isn’t there yet. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Thankfully, Jesus offers words to help Thomas and the other apostles close the gap. He gives them the core truth of our faith: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6).
Thomas doubts because he does not see
We’re all familiar with Thomas because of his most famous encounter with Jesus after his resurrection. Because he wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to the other apostles, Thomas refused to believe what they claimed. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
He needed physical proof.
Many of us might be thinking right now, “I might have felt the same way.” And we certainly may have. It’s an extraordinary claim to say someone rose from the dead.
Thomas would get his proof. Eight days after his statement, he was with the other apostles in a room with locked doors. Jesus appeared to them and showed Thomas his wounds, asking him to see, touch and believe. Thomas fell to his knees saying, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). It was an act of faith backed up by proof.
Is it a bad thing that Thomas needed proof first? Not necessarily. The Lord knows we will have doubts and questions. Even St. Peter doubted!
In Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus walks on the sea toward the disciples in the boat being tossed by the waves. Once he calms their fear and shock at seeing him walk on water, Peter asks the Lord to order him to come out on the water with him. Jesus beckons him and Peter gets out of the boat and begins walking on the sea, but fear and doubt overcome him quickly and he begins to sink.
The key to this passage is to notice what Peter did. He cried out to the Lord instead of trying to save himself: “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached out to him immediately and grabbed hold of him.
This is how we can best handle doubt in our own lives—by reaching out to Jesus. He wants us to come to him with our doubts and questions. He’s never angry or disappointed in us because we have them. He made us, he understands our weaknesses, and he is reaching out to us to resolve them.
All we have to do is reach out to him.
When you feel doubt creeping in, take it to prayer. Listen for the Lord to enlighten your thoughts. You may have to do some research or ask others for help as well. Just don’t let those doubts fester into something much worse. Use them to bring yourself closer to the Lord.
After Thomas’ act of faith, Jesus said to him: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29). Remember, the people Jesus is talking about here include you and me. Put your doubt at the foot of the cross and believe.
As a diocese undergoing many changes during the Set Ablaze initiative, we all will likely feel doubt about where we’re going and whether the things we’re doing will have the impact we hope for. Take those doubts also to Jesus and the cross. Don’t allow them to grow and taint your faith. Jesus, the great healer, can give the courage to believe and have hope as the Holy Spirit guides us on this new path. Trust in the Lord.
The mission and death of Thomas
We have few records (many of which are not very reliable) of exactly where Thomas went to spread the Gospel message. It is believed he went to India and spent much time there converting the people. He is still revered in India today.
According to Syrian Christian tradition, St. Thomas was martyred July 3, 72 A.D., at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, India. His feast day is July 3 and he is the patron of the blind, architects, carpenters and masons, geometricians, theologians and India.