Doubt.  What does it mean to doubt?  Psychologists tell us that, “Doubt is a mental state in which the mind remains suspended between two or more contradictory propositions, unable to be certain of any of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”

          Let’s consider what psychology is telling us.  “Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”  First, doubt, true doubt is an emotional matter because it involves indecision about something important.  Being indecisive about the choice of chocolate sprinkles or rainbow sprinkles on our next ice cream cone is not doubt.  In the case of the ice cream cone, we are simply deciding about a preference.  The type of sprinkles selected should not be emotional one because we will be just fine regardless of our decision.  True doubt is an emotional matter because it involves indecision about something important.

          What is the something important that causes the emotional response?  The something important concerning doubt, psychologist say that causes an emotional response within us, is belief or disbelief.  A belief or disbelief is conclusion we make that shapes our life.  In life, we will hold beliefs about ourselves, about other people, and about the world around us.  Those beliefs cause us to think certain thoughts, to speak in certain terms, and to act in particular ways.  Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying:

  • Your beliefs become your thoughts,
  • Your thoughts become your words,
  • Your words become your actions,
  • Your actions become your habits,
  • Your habits become your values,
  • Your values become your destiny.


I like this quote, but we can shorten it up a bit for today to just, “Your beliefs become your destiny.” Recognizing our beliefs become our destiny makes it all the clearer why doubt about what we believe triggers an emotional response.  I know some people who do not seem to believe in much of anything.  Trying to live a life avoiding belief in anything leaves them unsure about navigating life because they doubt themselves, they doubt the motives of others, and they rebel against any convention found in the world around them.

What we belief effects every part of who we are.  I suspect the first belief I ever held was as an infant.  I suspect I came to believe that this person called “Mommy” was my source of all the things I needed: food, comfort, security, safety, love, and affection. As an infant and years beyond, even though I could not express it with the eloquence of Gandhi, I acted with the belief that my mother primarily and then my father, were essential to my destiny. As you think about it, you may have a similar first belief concerning your parents.  You too believed your parents were the source of destiny.

Several years ago, I worked as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. In that capacity, I came to learn my first belief about my parents was not universally shared by all children.  Some infants and children came to doubt that their mother or father were essential to their destiny because sometimes those parents were the source of what was needed and at other times those same parents were the source of pain, neglect, and abuse.  The dangerously inconsistent behavior of those parents created doubt for their children leaving the children in an emotional state of indecision between belief and disbelief.  That doubt impacted the children’s thinking, words, actions, habits, values, and destiny. Some of you may have lived that experience.

I share the perspectives on doubt so that we might come to better understand the human context of what was played out in our New Testament reading today.  Understanding the human context will help us move into the spiritual message more readily. 

Our passage today deals doubt expressed through the experience of one of Jesus’ disciples, a man named Thomas.  Many of us know Thomas by a label applied to him centuries later calling him, “Doubting Thomas.”  Even today, to call someone a “Doubting Thomas,” is to imply that person is a skeptic who will continue to doubt unless they see or experience firsthand what we have shared with them about our experience. 

What do we know of this man Thomas?  We know that Thomas was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus whom Jesus called his apostles.  Thomas would have witness Jesus’ miracles, heard Jesus’ teachings, and been empowered at times by Jesus to do miraculous things himself.

We learn a little bit more about Thomas in Chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.  News had reached Jesus that Jesus’ friend Lazarus was dying and that Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, had asked Jesus to return at once to Judea to save Lazarus. Jesus said to his disciples, “‘Let us go back to Judea.’  ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’… Jesus said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’

12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.  14 So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’  16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” (John 11:7b-16) Thomas seems to stand apart from the other disciples. Seeing that Jesus had decided to return to Judea, Thomas expressed no doubt or hesitation about what should be done. The disciples must go back to Judea with Jesus.  Thomas’ words express a belief that dying with Jesus was better than disappointing Jesus by letting Jesus return to Judea alone.  Thomas could imagine no other place than to be wherever Jesus was and was going.

With that little bit about doubt and about Thomas, let’s look at today’s Scripture.  John wrote about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus. “24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus [which means twin]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’” (John 20:24-25a).  Just prior to today’s passage, John had written of the disciples first encounter with the risen Christ.  John wrote, “19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). 

Thomas was absent when the first group encounter with the resurrected Jesus took place. As soon as Thomas came back to the group, the disciples shared the good news that Jesus was alive and that they had confirmed it was Jesus because Jesus showed them his hands and side bearing the marks of being crucified and lanced with a spear.  The disciples’ message to Thomas as simple and joyful, “We have seen the Lord!” With great unity, the disciples were saying, “We believe Jesus is alive!”

But…there is always a but.  “But he [Thomas] said to them [the disciples], ‘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’” (John 20:25b).  Thomas’ response is an emotional one.  Thomas was grieving Jesus’ death and with Jesus’ death came the death of Thomas’ belief about Jesus.  Thomas could see that Jesus was of God for who could teach the way Jesus taught and do the miracles Jesus did.  Who else could have empowered Thomas and the others to heal people of all sorts of illnesses but a man from God.  Thomas must have believed that God had anointed Jesus as Messiah, the one person who would lead in the violent, military overthrow the Romans and re-establish Israel’s political independence.  When Jesus had spoken to the disciples about returning to Jerusalem where people were lying in wait to kill him, the disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going back.  It was only Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16).  Perhaps Thomas thought that the battle for independence was about to begin.

Thomas was willing to die for his belief in Jesus as God’s anointed political leader, but God allowed that Messiah to be crucified by the Romans before one fight could be waged in this war of independence.  A dead Messiah was too much for Thomas.  Like the young child believes of its parent, Thomas believed God invested into Jesus everything Thomas could imagine needed to set the world right here and now.  For Thomas believing Jesus’ role as this political Messiah governed what Thomas thought, what he said, his did, his habits, and his values because Thomas’ belief governed his destiny.  Thomas had seen for himself the wonders of God working through Jesus.  Thomas could not be wrong about what lay ahead for him, others, and the world.

But Jesus’ execution caused Thomas to enter the emotional state of doubt, a place of indecision between belief and disbelief.  In that state, the mere words of Thomas’ friends that Jesus was alive was not enough to overcome Thomas’ emotional state of doubt.  Thomas had believed in Jesus once based on seeing for himself and now Thomas was not willing to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples until he had seen again for himself the risen Jesus.  In his emotional distress, Thomas said he wanted more proof of Jesus than his friends accepted.  Thomas wanted to see Jesus and put his fingers and hands into Jesus’ wounds. Then and only then would Thomas believe again in Jesus.

This Thomas who was only a few days earlier willing to die with Jesus was trapped in doubt, that disquieting place between belief and disbelief.  Jesus’ death was hard for Thomas to understand because it ended the desires of man.  Doubt paralyzes us and drains our life of purpose.  Doubt holds us back from doing what we might know to be the right and best thing.  Doubt makes us timid and anxious.  The apostle Paul said that in doubt, we are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).  In doubt, we do not think clearly, our words are muddled, our actions are random, our habits are few, our values are not our own, and our destiny is unsettled and undetermined.  Living in the land of doubt is a hard and uncomfortable and so too is living with being disappointed twice.

Fortunately, living in the land of doubt was not to be Thomas’ destiny.  John wrote, “26 A week later his [Jesus’] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them [the disciples] and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” (John 20:26-27). What a marvelous scene.  Jesus came again to the disciples, this time including Thomas, and again said his resurrection meant peace.  To Thomas, Jesus offered himself to all the evidence of Jesus’ living presence that Thomas said he needed.  In doing so, Jesus connected the peace he offered to believing. Jesus encouraged Thomas to stop doubting, to come out of that emotional state of indecision, and choose to believe.

What was Thomas’ response?  There is no indication Thomas put his fingers or hands into Jesus wounds.  Instead, John wrote, “28 Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’”  (John 20:28).  Thomas’ utterance, “My Lord and my God!” shows the transformation of Thomas in accepting the resurrection of Jesus.  In an instant, Thomas saw Jesus not as a political Messiah but as the Messiah who is truly one with God, the one true God of heaven and earth. 

Jesus words just prior to his arrest and subsequent death now made sense.  Before Jesus’ death, Jesus told his disciples to that he was going to prepare a place for them.  “Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’  Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”’” (John 14:5-7).  Now with the resurrected Jesus standing in front of Thomas, Thomas understood that God was in Jesus and Jesus was in God and to see Jesus was to see God.

Thomas no longer doubted the goodness of God or the unity of God and Jesus.  Instead, Thomas believed and professed this change of heart more powerfully than any of the other disciples with the words to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”  Thomas was at peace.  Thomas no longer saw Jesus as a political person but saw Jesus as Lord and God.  Thomas had received the peace Christ offered.

 “29 Then Jesus told him [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”  Jesus’ words are addressed to us that we would believe without seeing and accept the peace that the resurrected Jesus offers.  In a moment, we will have an opportunity to see Jesus represented in the bread and cup.  The bread is a symbol of his body pierced and wounded for us.  The cup represents the blood coming from those wounds to his hands, feet, and side.  The Lord’s Supper as we call it is a proclamation of belief that Jesus is alive and is one with God.  As we take of these elements, let us believe and see that our destiny rests in Jesus, our Lord and our God.  Amen and Amen.