Few of us have days so bad that we are forever remembered by that one moment, but that’s the story of Thomas. We don’t know what plans he had scheduled for that day, but they were plans which would forever haunt him. For whatever reason, he wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection. It was a life-altering experience for those in the room, but Thomas missed it.
When the disciples told him what they had seen, Thomas had a tough time believing their story. His doubt is understandable. He told them that until he saw the nail-scarred hands of Jesus and placed his hand into the scar on the side of Jesus, he would not believe. A week later, Thomas believed. Jesus appeared and the doubting disciple was allowed to see the nail-scarred hands and touch the sword-scarred side. “My Lord and my God,” Thomas exclaimed. From that moment on, Thomas has forever been remembered as “Doubting Thomas.”
It’s not fair. Would they be remembered as “Doubting Peter” or “Doubting Andrew” had they not been in the room when Jesus first appeared? Did Thomas really show less faith than the other disciples or did he just happen to be absent when everyone else was present? There is no question that every disciple had moments of doubt, but it is only Thomas who is remembered by this haunting nickname.
But there is another story of Thomas which is often forgotten. Having escaped a stoning, Jesus left the area of Judea before his friend Lazarus became ill. When word got to Jesus about the sickness, Jesus was willing to risk his life to be by his friend’s side. The disciples weren’t so willing. To go with Jesus into Judea would be to risk their own lives. Why do such a thing if it wasn’t necessary? Yet, Jesus was going and he asked the disciples to go with him. In that moment, it’s not surprising that one of the disciples showed courage and leadership by saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The surprise is who said it.
We would expect Peter, the brazen one, to have the courage to risk it all for Jesus. We would think John, the beloved disciple, would have such faith to follow his friend. But instead, it was Thomas. “Doubting Thomas” was the one who took the initiative, modeled faith, and showed the courage to risk it all to obey.
Much is often made of Thomas’ original nickname–Twin. It could be a play on his dual nature–a person of faith and doubt. But aren’t we all a twin in some ways? I’m yet to meet a person of meaningful faith who doesn’t admit times of great doubt. Biblical faith is not the absence of questions; it’s the belief in God in the midst of our uncertainties.
I wonder how much damage has been done through the centuries by calling Thomas the Doubting One. It creates the appearance that doubt is to be avoided, extinguished, and never experienced. It could cause some faithful believers to feel less than faithful because of their questions. It might have silenced meaningful conversations because people were afraid to reveal anything less than absolute certainty?
Do you know why I love Jesus? In part, it’s because he doesn’t define us by our worst days. If we make a mistake or have doubt, we aren’t forever labeled by that moment. Instead, our identity comes not in what we have done but in what Jesus has done for us. The love of Jesus is greater than the failure of Thomas. And the faith Thomas showed in his willingness to die in obedience to the commands of Christ reveals a heart that was being transformed by grace.
I don’t know how others try to define you, but I’ll bet many labels aren’t very flattering. In an attempt to make themselves feel better, others can look at our worst moments and attempt to forever define us by those times. Jesus doesn’t do that so we shouldn’t either. Reject the labels others have placed upon you and accept the love Christ has freely given to you.