Why is it that some people believe the gospel and others do not? Perhaps the experience of Thomas can supply at least some of the answers to this question. From this text we can observe three barriers to faith that Thomas had to overcome in order to believe in the resurrected Lord.
One of the reasons Thomas was slow to believe in the resurrection of Christ is that he did not have all the evidence. The resurrected Christ had appeared to the disciples and gladdened their hearts with his presence (John 20:19-23). But, as our text reminds us (v. 24), Thomas had not been among them. He had spent a whole week in doubt and despair because he was absent from the place where he was most likely to meet Christ. He did not expose himself to all of the evidence.
Thomas is an example of a whole generation of doubters who have systematically detached themselves from the believing community. There are many people who seek to be good without God, a Christian without the church. Such people are ripe for doubt.
The honest searcher will seek faith where other people have found it. He will expose himself to the evidence of God’s reality—to the contagion of other people’s faith, to the preaching and teaching of the word of God. Why is it that people who doubt God the most are often the very ones who know the least about Him?
Thomas was from Missouri. “Show me,” was the motto of his life. Doubt was woven deep into the fabric of his life. He seems to have been cynical by nature. In the two other glimpses John gives us of Thomas he is consistently in the role of the skeptic, fearing the worst and slow to believe (John 11:16; 14:5). The cynicism and skepticism he displays in this third and final episode thus seem typical of his very disposition.
Like Thomas, it is harder for some people to believe today because they are cynical and skeptical in their basic approach to all of life. Sometimes the cruel and “unfair” blows of life make it difficult for people to profess any kind of faith in God. This is true of some of the more notable skeptics of recent history. There are many people reeling from life’s blows who have hardened their hearts to God and everybody else.
“Unless I see… touch… I will not believe.” (v. 25) Thomas was an empiricist. He was one of those people for whom “seeing is believing.” As such he is a fitting model for our times. Since God cannot be “seen” or “heard” or “touched,” some people are slow to acknowledge his existence. They have a tendency to trust only what their senses can confirm.
But so much of life is beyond that which can be perceived by our senses. We have never “smelled” an idea, “felt” a truth, put our “finger” on a thought. These realities are perceived in other ways. Such is the nature of “spiritual” realities. Our senses can take us to the edges of life, but they cannot take us beyond this life. Faith and faith alone can take us beyond this life.
It’s my greatest blessing in life to have known men and women who “lived their whole life for their death.” People who loved the Lord daily and longed for eternity moment by moment.
They understood that the most important things in life are things we cannot see. They knew a faith that hasn’t been tested can’t be trusted. Their motto: without Christ, not one step; with him, anywhere!
As Abraham Lincoln said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!” Faith has never yet out-stripped the bounty of the Lord. Faith is a gift that we can ask for.
For us, like Thomas, the key to overcoming doubt is a personal encounter with the risen Lord. For Thomas this happened when he “saw” the Savior. For us it happens as we chose to accept the testimony of the Scriptures concerning him and trust in him to save us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).