Thomas: The Courage to Question
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Thomas, the doubter: we think of him as unsure, uncertain, weak of faith. But if you review the few instances about Thomas in the gospels, I think you will get a different picture. I think Thomas got "a bad rap" from popular views.
Thomas the Loyal
John tells us what we know about Thomas, and actually makes him a hero. The first event John records (John 11:7-8, 14-16) shows that when Jesus informed him that he must die, Thomas wants to defend Jesus. Thomas expresses sorrow but declares he is ready to go with Jesus and die with him or for him. That sounds like courageous loyalty, based on faith.
Thomas the Realist
Then in John 14, Jesus tells them he must go away, and not to worry, since they know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas the realist wants to be clear about this. He states, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how could we know the way?"
To answer Thomas' apparently honest question, Jesus makes the famous statement that has echoed through history and around the world: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life! No one can get to the Father except by me. Now that you know me, you know the Father also."
The Courage to Ask
What if Thomas had not had the courage to ask that question? We might never have had this beautiful, foundational statement from Jesus! But Thomas had the courage to ask — he did not care if he sounded ignorant. Jesus did not belittle Thomas for his question, but took the question as an opportunity to declare himself in a statement that has become one of our own common confessions of faith in Jesus!
Finally the well-known instance of meeting Jesus after his resurrection. This is where Thomas gets his title Doubting Thomas. Jesus came back to his discouraged followers in their dismal seclusion, hiding in fear of the Jewish authorities.
Jesus showed them his hands and his feet, then commissioned them and breathed on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). But Thomas was not there.
“I Can’t Believe It!”
So when Thomas came back, he was incredulous. This was too good to be true! Note that when Jesus invites him to touch the wounds, Thomas does not need to do that, but simply confesses: "My Lord and MY God!" Did any of the others confess that way? Not that John tells us.
Thomas, the loyal follower, willing to die, was overjoyed that his lord was alive! He was astonished and surprised, but doubtful? Not at all — he immediately confessed Jesus! I do not feel comfortable calling Thomas a Doubter.
Thomas the Courageous
I rather see him as Thomas the Courageous. He had the courage to question, the loyalty to follow and the faith to confess Jesus upon sight! He’s a good model for me!
Originally published in the "Reflections" series in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, June 1997
First posted on Millennium Centre 22 November 2007
Copyright © 1993, 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.