John 20:25b – “But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
My message from this past Sunday, Behind Locked Doors, presented the opportunity to reconsider the doubt of Thomas. Interpreting scripture is a delicate art. Wandering off the traditional path of interpretation can distort the integrity of Scripture, so one must be careful and cautious. There are times, however, when such wandering allows the prayerful reader to encounter God in unexpected places – and, these untimed encounters have a way of revealing truths of the self. Our reading of the doubt of Thomas (John 20:24-29) presents such an encounter. Our reading invites us to consider, as well, how we hide behind the locked door of doubt!
Thomas is honest; he will not believe the report of the other disciples unless he witnesses the risen Jesus. But, is this admission representative of a lack of faith? I addressed two points in my message, which I would like to evaluate more closely…
Thomas is unwilling to believe. John uses a word, tense, and mood suggestive of the true dilemma. The word used, which means “to believe,” emphasizes the acceptance of a truth or the trust placed in something or someone. Logic and reason are not the heart of the matter. The dilemma for Thomas was his struggle to accept this truth; or, to continuously place trust in its validity. Which begs the question, why would Thomas (specifically) struggle to accept this truth?
Our first point has us recall the context of the narrative. Thomas has returned to the room in Jerusalem where the disciples were hiding. These followers had secured themselves behind the locked door of the room after the arrest of Jesus, because they were afraid the Jews might arrest them, as well. Where has Thomas gone? What was Thomas doing? Why had Thomas left the room? There is no evidence to suggest the particulars of his absence from the room. John only confirms Thomas had left the room. Perhaps, this is the pertinent detail.
John first introduces his audience to Thomas in the eleventh chapter. The disciples question the decision of Jesus to return to Judea (specifically, Bethany) so he might awaken Lazarus. They fear Jesus will put his life at risk if he returns. Thomas is the one to speak up! His words to his fellow disciples are chilling: “Let us also go, that we may die with [Jesus].” Our first impression of Thomas is a willingness to risk his life to follow Jesus, to serve his Lord, and to participate in his ministry. The reason for his absence on the day of resurrection is not the point of relevance. His willingness to leave the security of the room, to pass beyond the locked door, is the relevant detail. Why would Thomas, who is willing to risk his life for the sake of Jesus and his ministry, be unwilling to trust the report of the disciples? Why would Thomas (specifically) doubt the raising of Jesus to a newness of life?
The fear of disappointment can suffocate hope. If you have ever experienced true disappointment – the nonfullfilment of one’s hope – then, you know the effect it has on your perspective. You begin to think differently, perceive differently, and emote differently. I am reminded of a conversation I shared with a young man, who was going through the disappointing break-up with his long-time girlfriend. He had invested all of himself into the relation; he fought for its survival. His efforts were futile. The relationship would not recover. As we spoke, I could hear the shift in his voice. His hope for a fulfilling relationship began to dismantle as the disappointment swirled within. How could there be someone else, something more complete, when I have already lost all I could hope for?
Doubt can be a failure to perceive, understand, or comprehend. Doubt can be couched in logic and reason. Doubt, however, can something else. Doubt can be a means of protecting against a false sense of hope. We doubt the existence of the something more, because we cannot stand to loose the hope we once knew!
Thomas, who is willing to die for the sake of Jesus, is unwilling to accept this same Jesus has been raised to a newness of life. His doubt is not a lack of faith; his doubt is a fear of a false sense of hope. The disciples hide behind the locked door of a room in Jerusalem. Thomas hides behind the locked door of doubt. He has lost Jesus already; disappointment has suffocated his hope. He cannot bare loosing Jesus – even the possibility of hope – for a second time. He employs doubt to protect him; to guard him; to conceal him.
Doubt is a response to disappointment. It protects against a false sense of hope. It is a locked door; and, we are hiding behind it. To live in hiding is death to the spirit of life, because it is a life without hope. The something else and the something more cannot be discovered behind the locked door. There, they do not exist.
It is time for us to disappoint doubt! It is time for us to fling open the locked door and escape into the risky world where the something else and the something more are to be discovered. The door will be different for each of us. For some, the door may be the hope of the resurrection and the new life it promises. For others, the door may be more personal – hope for a fulfilling relationship; a fulfilling marriage; a fulfilling career; or, the assurance of health; the comfort of friendship; the affirmation of worth, beauty, purpose.
Are you hiding behind the locked door of doubt? I would love to hear your story! Leave a comment in the “reply” section or send me an email at HamptonUMC@gmail.com.