18 August 2010 15:46:58

We are not called to be optimists, pessimists nor even realists, but simply people of faith the size of a mustard seed that can grow to move mountains of doubt and unbelief.

Thomas is well known as the disciple who doubted.

It has been suggested that people fall into a number of categories in respect of their propensity to believe. There are those who believe anything, those who believe nothing and those who, given sufficient evidence, are prepared to move from unbelief to faith.

This does not apply only in the realm of religion but in other areas such as newspaper and TV reports, product advertising claims and so on. There are those of us with a positive attitude who always believe the best, and those who are pessimistic – always assuming the worst.

Most of us vacillate between these two extremes but we will generally tend to one or the other.

In fact, it has been said that the more highly educated and analytical we become, it is increasingly likely that we will be inclined towards negativity and scepticism.

It is clear from the biblical record that Thomas was of a negative disposition. There are three incidents when Thomas revealed his negative attitude to life.

In John 10:22–39 the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem tried to arrest and kill Jesus, who withdrew to a place of safety beyond the Jordan river.

It was after this in John 11:1–3 that a message was sent to Jesus about the illness of Lazarus who lived just outside Jerusalem in the village of Bethany.

When Jesus told the disciples he intended to return to the Jerusalem area to visit the dead Lazarus, it prompted an immediate negative response from Thomas.

No doubt remembering the attempt to kill Jesus and suppress his teachings the last time he was in the area, Thomas said, "Let's go too – and die with him" (John 11:16 TLB).

Although his devotion and loyalty might be commendable, Thomas clearly felt a deep pessimism about another journey into the stronghold of the hostile Jewish leaders.

His doubts were actually well-founded, for it was the raising of Lazarus from the dead which galvanised the Pharisees into action to plot the death of Jesus (John 11:45–53).

Later Jesus seeks to encourage His disciples and tells them, "You know where I am going and how to get there", but Thomas responds, "No we don't. We haven't any idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (TLB).

It was his negative but honest response that produced one of the most significant statements of Jesus when he graciously replied, "I am the way and the truth and the life…"

Finally, Thomas refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus without proof: "Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won't believe it" (John 20:25 The Message).

Notice that, for Thomas, seeing was certainly not believing because just to see Jesus alive was insufficient for him – he had to actually touch His wounds before he could believe.

It is surely encouraging for us today that such a confirmed sceptic as Thomas came to believe in the miracle of the resurrection – it really must have happened! Thomas' actions have earned him the sobriquet "Doubting Thomas".

This is both inaccurate and unfair. Even though he was a person of a negative and critical disposition, he was sufficiently open-minded to change his views when presented with proof.

Jesus graciously acceded to his request and Thomas became a fearless and outspoken witness to the resurrection.

The power raised Jesus from the dead also transformed an unbelieving sceptic into a powerful preacher of the truth he had once denied.

If we are honest with God about our doubts then, as with Thomas, He will make Himself real to us and help our unbelief.

We are not called to be optimists, pessimists nor even realists, but simply people of faith the size of a mustard seed that can grow to move mountains of doubt and unbelief.

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