How to Handle Doubts
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: Jesus will give every doubter who asks the miraculous gift of his presence
One of my favorite stories concerns a Baptist young man who went away to college and made himself obnoxious to his friends by bragging constantly about his Baptist heritage. According to him, everything about Baptists was right, and everyone else was wrong. That might have been tolerated at a Baptist college, but this wasn’t and most of his friends weren’t. They finally devised a plan to get even.
One Friday night they slipped some sleeping powder into their Baptist friend’s coffee. When he passed out, they loaded him into a car and drove him out of the city to a remote graveyard. They’d already done their work well. They had a large coffin there, with its lid open. They put their friend in the coffin and hid behind a nearby tombstone to see what would happen when he woke up.
For a long while, nothing happened. Night passed; dawn came. The sun began to rise and its long rays cast shadows through the mist collecting on the ground. And they were hiding and chuckling, “It won’t be long now.”
A moment later they heard a noise in the casket. Then they saw an arm come up and stretch itself. Then another arm. And then their Baptist friend sat up and looked around. And they were saying, “This is it. He’s going to look around, see where he is, scream and jump up and run out of the graveyard, and we’re going to laugh about it for the rest of our lives.”
Instead, the young Baptist looked around at the other grave plots and shouted, “Hallelujah! It’s the resurrection morning, and the Baptists are the first ones up!”
Easter is the highest and greatest day of the entire year. But a lot of people miss the celebration. In a recent survey, 46% of non-Christians said they didn’t even know why Christians observe Easter. This study will help.
On this Sunday after Easter, let’s meet a man for whom the resurrection occurred a week late. Thomas proves that it’s not too late for anyone to meet the risen Christ, no matter their doubts or fears. We know people who are struggling with their faith. And we know how doubts feel. What Jesus did for Thomas, he’s waiting this week to do for us.
Expect doubts (v. 24a)
Jesus made five appearances on the first Easter Sunday: to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to the two on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, and then to the other Ten. He would make five other post-resurrection appearances over the next 40 days. But none was more significant than the event we’ll study this week.
Our story begins with the fact of spiritual doubt. The disciples had met on the first Easter “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews” (John 20.19). Now , a week later, their doors were still locked (v. 26). Their fear of the authorities was still very real. The same people who executed Jesus might be looking for them. The most dangerous place in Jerusalem was with these followers of the convicted and crucified carpenter. But Thomas joined them anyway. If a man of such courage could experience doubt, so will we.
Here is a person so committed to Jesus that he exhorted the other disciples to join him in following their Lord to Jerusalem, that they might die with him (John 11.16). He was the one disciple willing to admit his questions so that he might follow Jesus more fully (John 14.5). He was still “one of the Twelve” (v. 24), the term used for Jesus’ closest followers even after Judas’s death (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.5, Revelatiom 21.14). Doubts are not just for the weak.
In fact, they affect everyone. The Bible is filled with Doubting Thomases. Think of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, doubting God’s commandment regarding the forbidden fruit; Cain doubting God and slaying Abel; Abraham doubting God, and Sarah laughing at her Lord; Jacob wrestling with him all night; Moses doubting him at the burning bush; the children of Israel doubting him and wandering for a generation in the wilderness; Peter doubting Jesus and denying him three times.
Thomas was not the first to have spiritual doubts, or the last. Even after they met the risen Lord, “the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28.16-17). Every one of us has been a Doubting Thomas at some point in our spiritual lives. Some of us are standing at his side today.
Frederick Buechner is right: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” We all have doubts. To doubt that statement is to have a doubt about doubts. Such questions are part of every human experience.
Questions about the faith are not confined to those who claim such faith. According to George Hunter, the most important issue keeping secular people from Christian faith is doubt. Secular people doubt the claims of God’s word, partly because of the plural truth claims confronting people today. They also doubt the intelligence, relevance, and credibility of the church and its leaders.
Historian Will Durant speaks for millions: “God, who was once the consolation of our brief life and our refuge in bereavement and suffering, has apparently vanished from the scene; no telescope, no microscope discovers Him. Nothing is certain in life except defeat and death, a sleep from which there is no awakening. Faith and hope disappear. Doubt and despair are the order of the day.”
F. W. Robertson was widely hailed as one of England’s greatest preachers. One of his church members said, “I cannot describe the strange sensation during his sermon of union with him and communion with one another which filled us as he spoke. Nor can I describe the sense we had of a higher Presence with us as he spoke—the sacred awe which filled our hearts—the hushed stillness in which the smallest sound was startling—the calm eagerness of men who listened as if waiting for a word of revelation to resolve the doubt or to heal the sorrow of a life.”