Let us talk about names. Some times all of us get nicknames, or adjectives added to our names and some times they stick. Stories about school admissions have already started appearing in the news papers. People are standing in queue overnight just to collect admission forms. During an admission interview the teacher asked a little boy what his name was. He answered “Johnny Don’t”. The teacher looked at the application form and found that the first name of the boy was indeed Johnny. Amused, the teacher asked the boy to explain. He calmly said, “That is what my mother calls me. Whenever my mother calls me it is Johnny Don’t followed some thing to do. Like Johnny Don’t make noise, Johnny Don’t break that vase. Johnny Don’t climb the tree, Johnny Don’t jump on the sofa, Johnny Don’t do that, Johnny Don’t do this, etc.”
Today we will study about some one whose name stuck for generations altogether. Apostle Thomas is more known as the Doubting Thomas. He is more known for that one act of doubt he voiced than for anything else that he did before and after that. What are some of the other incidents that we remember in Thomas’s life? I am sure all of us remember that he was the first missionary to India. But what many of us would not remember about Thomas is an incident during the Death and resurrection of Lazarus. This is recorded in John 11:1 onwards. All of us know the story. Lazarus was very sick and the sisters sent word to Jesus. Jesus intentionally stays back for a couple of more days before taking a decision to go back to Judea where Lazarus was. Once he takes the decision, it is interesting to note the disciples’ reaction. They are genuinely worried for his safety. Few weeks back the Jews had attempted to stone him in the same locality. So they remind Jesus about that incident and the looming threat that he faces if he goes back to Judea (John 11:8). Jesus helps them understand the importance of what he is about to do. That is when we see Thomas in action. He is the only one who plucks up courage and encourages other disciples. John 11:16 (NKJV) “Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” This is the disciple who was going to stick to Jesus, even if it meant getting stoned to death. Unfortunately he is not remembered for that brave act. He is remembered for asking for proof that Jesus is really alive. He is remembered for confessing that he will not believe unless he sees the Lord himself, and touches him.
But before we go on dissecting Thomas’s behaviour any further, let us turn our attention to ourselves. Let us do the uncomfortable act of asking ourselves. Is there any one who has not doubted? Have we all not doubted one time or the other? Have we not doubted our parents, have we not doubted our children? Have we not doubted our siblings? Have we not doubted our spouses? Have we not doubted our close friends? Have we not doubted God?
What is the genesis of doubt? Why do we doubt?
Studies reveal that there are three main categories of doubts.
First is the Factual category of Doubts. This arises from facts not adding up. These arise when we cannot see the logic in something. This is something that comes when there is not enough evidence. This is what is applied when a “benefit of doubt” is given to some one. You see this in cricket, you see this in judiciary. At a Christian faith level this happens when we consider certain things illogical. This could involve the very basic and central beliefs of Christian faith, like Virgin Birth, Jesus’ death, and resurrection. Factual doubts also come. When we are unable to answer questions related with those aspects of Christianity, we might ourselves get into doubt about Christianity. Factual doubts can also raise when one gets sidetracked due to Pseudo issues. Let me explain. There are calculations out there probably to prove that according to the Biblical facts the earth is a few thousand years old. Once can easily get sidetracked by this. Take simple things like whether it is OK to eat pork or not, or for that matter could there a vegetarian Christian. Any issue like this where scripture may be non committal and hence it is OK for believers to take different views can cause doubts if we allow these issues to sidetrack the true Gospel. Another form of factual doubt is when one has a continuously questioning intellect. Have you seen people continuously questioning. One of the questions that could stump any true believer is “Who was wife of Cain?” So there is no end to Factual doubts that can happen. Factual doubts is the area that Apologetics try to address constantly.
Second category of doubt is the emotional doubts. This is actually the more difficult one to deal with. Because, this is a matter of heart and not of mind. These could be caused by psychological issues like anxiety, depression, moods etc, or medical issues like bipolar syndrome, alcoholism, drugs etc. This could also be due to one’s own experiences like childhood problems or old emotional wounds. At a Christian faith level, these could be caused also by peer pressure. When our moderate friends start questioning our firm beliefs, when the secular world view starts questioning our strong faith, then doubts arise in our minds. For example, when I tell my Hindu friends that Jesus is the only way to heaven, it is easy for me to be ridiculed, or be branded as a fanatic. Young people face this pressure more often, and more severely. When we start thinking that not many seemingly “intelligent” people believe in what we believe, this could cause doubts in our minds about our own faith. Another factor which cause emotional doubt is the fictional world which goes around us. It is one thing to enjoy a Harry Potter novel or movie, but if one starts to put one’s belief in such matters, doubts can easily arise. This is true with the TV serials that are seen, books that are read etc. Christian Hypocrisy is yet another reason for emotional doubts. Day after day we see supposedly Christians behaving in totally unchristian manner and that outs us in doubt if Christianity is the right solution. This is reported to be the reason that prevented Mahatma Gandhi from accepting Christianity. He just could not get to believe the idea that the so called Christians that he saw, are also part of the fallen world, and hence there are hypocrites among the Christians. Uncertainty of the future is of course the most common and most dangerous kind of emotional doubt. In spite of the thousands of assurances that have been given in the Bible, in spite of our own assertions to the contrary, many of us (or may be, all of us at one point or the other) have had questions about the future. Is my future safe with God?, will I certainly go to heaven? Etc are questions that many of us have faced.
The third kind of doubt is the kind called Volitional Doubt. This comes because we fail to exercise our conscious choice or free will in situations. This could happen when an individual is left wavering between two positions (James 1:6-8). This could happen due to immature faith. Some one who went through the “conversion” experience too early in one’s spiritual growth might start doubting whether his/her conversion was a result of coercion by some one else. This also happens when one suspects that he/she is not spiritually growing in the Lord. Our inability to forgive and heal the wounds is one of the major reasons for this type of doubt. I have preached on the matter of Emotional Healing and Forgiveness many times in the past, but many still believe that the Christian concept of total forgiveness and healing is too difficult and not easily applicable in real life. This feeling gives raise to many doubts. Of course the most dangerous kind of volitional doubt is one’s own self sufficiency, when one puts ones own will above God’s will, and then when things do not happen start doubting God’s will instead of our own will.
I hope the above has given you an idea of how doubts are formed. May be, while I was speaking you might have tried to identify some of the doubts that you have been having with some of the categories I spoke about. So let us get to the more important aspect of how to deal with all these doubts. There are two ways that one can look at the dealing strategies. One is psychological and the other is Biblical. I was surprised to find that actually they are not different at all.
The Psychological way, prescribed by psychologists, and counselors, of dealing with doubts is in three steps
Identify and articulate your misbeliefs
Replace them with the truth
The Biblical way of accomplishing all the three above is through a four step process
I have preached on Philippians 4:4-9 before, and these four aspects can be very strongly seen in this passage.
Instead of elaborating on each of these individually, let us quickly see how some of the biblical characters dealt with their doubts.
Mary, when given the news about the virgin birth had a genuine factual doubt. How could a virgin bear a child? She expressed the doubt, she got the answer, she removed the doubt and replaced it with the truth that nothing is impossible with God, and that she is a servant of God. (Luke 1:26-37)
Job had a huge emotional doubt. Chapter after Chapter of the book is about intellectualizing the concept of pain and suffering and subtly and not so subtly seeking answers from God. He articulated his doubts in a very elaborate manner (perhaps the most elaborate manner than any one else in the Bible), and was convinced when God challenged him with question after question of “Where were you when..?” He replaced the doubts with the simple truth that God is Omnipotent (Job 42:1-2), and that he can trust in the Lord even when he does not understand everything that is happening around.
I could go on with other examples. We could talk about Abraham, we could talk about Gideon, we could talk about the Psalmists, we could talk about Habakkuk, we could talk about Zachariah in the new testament, we could talk about many more characters who doubted, voiced their doubts and came to the conclusion that God is in control. In the interest of time let us conclude by circling back to our hero of the day, Thomas.
Thomas had all three kinds of doubts. He had the factual doubt on How could a dead man come back to life (despite the fact that he was a witness to Lazarus resurrection). He was in a terrible mood, and was in no mental position to believe some thing like this from his fellow apostles. He had volitional doubt on how could he actually believe some thing he had not seen. So he voiced his doubt, and voiced it very firmly. And Jesus did not admonish him for his doubts. Jesus helped him remove Thomas’ doubts by letting him touch and feel him. And Thomas replaced the doubt with truth, the ultimate truth that Jesus is Lord and God (John 20:28)
May I encourage all of you to close your eyes and think about the doubts that you might be having. For those of you who have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and saviour, may I encourage you to reaffirm your faith that Jesus is indeed alive among us today and he is indeed our Lord and God. For those of you who are not yet convinced, and are still wondering, and in two minds, may I encourage you to consider seeking and accepting the only true Lord and God , Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.