Christianity’s Misconceiving of St. Thomas and the Questioner

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

John 20:25b-27

A few weeks ago, my beloved intellectual hero and theologian Ravi Zacharias passed away, leaving a mourning number of students behind, I being among them.

I have shared on Twitter and Instagram just how much Ravi has meant to me, and I still cannot do justice to the amazing ways in which his philosophical arguments, theological breakdowns, and pure, radical love have transformed my interaction with Christ, with others of different faiths, and with myself and my understanding of the natural world.

Ever since I was a toddler, I’ve been asking the question “why.” When I was told I could not have another cookie, I would ask “why, Mommy?” and the answer that it was too close to bed never satisfied me, so I would ask again until I learned that sugar is a stimulant which can deter the process of sleep.

I’m naturally inquisitive.

Ridiculously inquisitive.

I began to think this was a bad thing, especially when I turned fifteen. At fifteen, I started questioning a lot of things. This time, it wasn’t questioning why I couldn’t have a cookie.

It was questioning why do I believe that Jesus is God? Why do I believe that morality exists? Why do I believe that God created the earth? How can I believe in the Bible if it contains “textual inconsistencies?” Did Noah’s flood really happen? Is there such a thing as Divine revelation? Is there even a God at all?

And it’s really scary when everything you’ve believed for so long gets questioned all of a sudden. You have a genuine reason to be curious, to doubt, to examine, and to reconsider, but nevertheless, my statement remains.

It’s scary.

Let me draw a picture.

(This will never happen because of the way the Bible has demonstrated historical accuracy and literary integrity, but I’m just making a scenario here) You wake up one morning and on the news you hear that there is evidence that the Bible was a forged document, Jesus never existed, and Christianity is a hoax.

The moment you start to doubt the smallest facet of your belief, everything follows and then your entire existence is being questioned.

So I have, since then, been adamantly devoted to understanding why I believe what I do so that I may not have doubts, as is my fallible, demanding human nature. I cannot help that I am inquisitive. My mind wants answers.

That’s where Ravi came in. I was a nervous, determined-to-believe, frightened, doubting Christian who just wanted to know why Jesus was who he said he was and why I have no reason to believe that this world isn’t just a ball of useless, insignificant chemicals burning into eternity.

But Ravi taught me that faith is not “a blind leap.” Faith is arriving at a conclusion based on garnered evidence about something unseen.

Faith and logic and science are coexistent and are dependent upon each other, and there is evidence for what I find myself wildly believing.

Humans are smart, intelligent, inquisitive, and curious creatures made in the image of a God who knows all. Our knowledge⁠—unlike God’s⁠—is limited, but we have a desire to understand. We have a desire to know what is true, if truth exists.

And what’s more, we have been given⁠—by God⁠—the ability to reason, philosophize, study, comprehend, and make sense of our situation.

Is it wrong that we want to understand? Is it wrong that we question?

And this brings me to St. Thomas.

St. Thomas…the doubter.

St. Thomas, the one who said that he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’s resurrection until he saw the wounds in his hands and his feet with his own eyes and touched them with his own hands.

Indeed, Thomas is easily one of the most misunderstood characters in the Bible.

Even Dawkins pokes fun at him in his book The Selfish Gene. Rebuked for being inquisitive? What a joke.

But Thomas has since become my favorite disciple (if that’s allowed) and is, of all Jesus’s disciples, the one I sympathize with the most, because I have been so similarly minded.

St. Thomas…the questioner.

Ravi always talked about Thomas during his lectures, and he made me realize something incredibly important.

We always assume (as did Dawkins) that Jesus gets angry with Thomas and scolds him for not “believing without seeing,” and that it’s wrong to doubt, it’s wrong to inquire, and it’s wrong to be cautious and thought-provoking.

Basically, we all feel like Jesus is basically saying, “run straight into it no matter what kind of doubts arise. It’s wrong to have unanswered questions. Just ignore them.”

But Jesus’s repsonse to Thomas is actually far from that: he says “Reach your finger here, and look at my Hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

If Jesus had been cross with Thomas’s doubts, he probably wouldn’t have appeared to him. If he wanted Thomas to believe without seeing, he would not have shown himself to him.

But the fact of the matter is, He did!

He gave Thomas the evidence. He presented it to him.

He goes on to say that because Thomas has seen, he has believed, and blessed are those who believe and do not see. But he doesn’t rebuke Thomas.

I think sometimes Christians feel that Thomas is supposed to be a demonstration of how bad it is to not blindly leap into faith and demanding evidence for what we believe. Dawkins certainly thought so, too.

But far from it! St. Thomas’s doubts and his questioning is what took him to extreme lengths for the gospel. He wasn’t skeptic for no reason…when his questions were answered, it made his belief so much more powerful.

In fact, St. Thomas, because of his experience with the risen Christ, went on to preach the gospel in Chennai, India, where he was martyred (legend holds that he was skewered with four spears) for the good news that he preached. The Marthoma Christians in India today still claim that he is their founder.

And he went so far because he knew the truth.

And he knew the truth because he questioned.

If Ravi taught me anything through his teaching when he was alive, it’s that society needs thinkers. I’m currently taking a class with the RZIM academy, which has already been so enriching, and our academy motto is “Helping the believer think and helping the thinker believe.”

Because so often, the believer is the believer because it’s how they’ve been raised and it’s how they’ve always seen the world.

Chronic Christianity is alive and well in our twenty-first century society. Numerous believers around the world consider themselves “Christians,” because that’s who their parents are/were, and that’s how they were raised.

But we have to know why we believe what we believe. Who’s to say nihilism isn’t false or we’re just a bunch of brains in a vat? How can we claim authority over our beliefs if we do not even know what we have given our belief to?

We must know. We must investigate.

Because there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. There’s nothing wrong with taking caution about who or what you privelege with your belief. A human’s belief is a precious thing, and human belief should not be given to whomever or whatever passes through the recesses of the human mind.

My belief belongs to Jesus Christ, who has captured it in its entirety, and who I have learned is entitled to my life and belief.

I have reason, and with my life I want to help others understand my reasons. Questions are welcome. Questions are ways in which we learn. Questions are the only way mankind has ever been able to progress into the future. Questions are the way in which we can unravel mainstream ideas and expose the truth.

I’m having a difficult time right now trying to decide between going to graduate school for medieval literature or for theological literature and religion. I want others to know how much Jesus loves them, why they have a reason to believe that a God created them, loves them, and that there is more than just this world.

There is more to their doubts.

There are answers to questions.

There is a reason for the hope that is within us.

Come let us reason together,

Emily 🙂

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15

8 thoughts on “Christianity’s Misconceiving of St. Thomas and the Questioner

  1. Oh wow, this was so good. I guess I’ve often been puzzled by Jesus’ response to Thomas, too…and I don’t think anyone has ever really pointed out to me that Jesus didn’t actually rebuke him. And yet, as I’ve learned over the past couple of years, Jesus is VERY understanding of and sympathetic to our physical, incarnational reality. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t have taken on human flesh and subjected himself to all of its difficulties and limitations. So thank you for pointing yet another example of Jesus’ kindness! ❤

    1. Isn’t it interesting? I was actually so encouraged by it, because I consider myself such an inquisitive, albeit sometimes skeptical sort of person, and Thomas resonates so well with me. Going back and hearing Ravi talk about Jesus’s actual response to Thomas was so inspiring! Jesus is so good and so very understanding of “and sympathetic to our physical, incarnational reliaty,” as you said. Loved the way you put that!
      Sorry for my late response, by the way! Crazy week this past week! 🙂

  2. Absolutely! Ravi Zacharias was fundamental for me when I dug more into apologetics, and I have also sent/will send my kids to that well for sure. You were also spot on with the Thomas thing. My husband has always said that Thomas is one of his favorite people because he (himself) has questions, too. God wants us to come reason with Him, for sure!!😁😁

    1. Ah! I would definitely recommend the course! It’s so enriching, and I’ve already learned so much about using logic, abstaining/detecting fallacious arguments, morality, and other topics we’re about to dive into are getting me excited! Thomas is definitely one of my favorites, too.
      Also, thank you so much for reading my posts and commenting! It’s been such a joy to see you on the blog! Sorry for my late response, by the way. This last week I had some pretty hefty assignments for literary history!
      Talk to you soon!
      Emily 😉

  3. Lovely, Emily! Your words were deep and thoughtful. It’s really hard to go through a season of doubting, and it’s encouraging to read Thomas’s story in the Gospels. Jesus is so gracious to us humans. 🙂

    Ravi Zacharias was also such a inspirational, encouraging man, and I’m so thankful for his work in apologetics.

    1. Amen, Amelie! He was an amazing, encouraging, man, and I cannot stress just how much he blessed me and my walk with Christ.
      And thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I think reminding ourselves of Thomas’s humanity and Jesus’s loving response is something we can remember for ourselves when we go through seasons of doubting, as you put it. It definitely encouraged me, and I’m so glad it did for you, too!
      Also, apologies for the late response – this week was crazy! 🙂

  4. I can’t help but think the poor man would rather go back to being known as ‘the twin’ rather than ‘doubting Thomas’. I’d have to admit I’m partial to Thomas as well– his character and story are very interesting, even encouraging. I appreciate how one history book had a section dedicated to his history and the myths surrounding it.
    I entered my questioning stage with some trepidation, but was encouraged to find thoughtful and willing answers. Ravi was a good help then. ‘Why’ isn’t so scary anymore. Investigation is invigorating (as is alliteration).

    1. Hahaha loved that alliteration at the end there. But yes, investigation *is* invigorating, and also sooo satisfying! What we find when we look is so affirming and marvelous! Wasn’t Ravi such an amazing guide in those areas?
      And yes, poor Thomas. He should’ve been known as the Twin for the rest of history, instead of “the doubter.” It gves off such a negative connotation.
      Also, sorry for the late response! I had quite the week. 😉
      Emily 🙂

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