The Apostle Thomas – Part 3 – Depression, Not Doubt

by Stephen Rodgers

Part 3 of 4: John 20:24-25

This is the classic passage that gave Thomas his undeserved nickname.  Even in secular circles, calling someone a “doubting Thomas” implies an unhealthy degree of skepticism and/or pessimism in the face of evidence that should result in the doubter knowing better.  And yet, if we really examine this passage, is such a moniker warranted?
First, it is interesting to note that Thomas was not with the others when Jesus first appeared to them that Sunday afternoon/evening.  Scripture does not record where he might have been, but we can safely assume that he was not off running errands or getting a haircut.  The other disciples had locked themselves into a room (probably the same room that was used for the last supper) because they feared the chief priests and the religious leaders.  They were traumatized by the death of Christ; they feared further persecution.  And in their grief and fear, they turned to one another for comfort and company.
But not Thomas.
I think that Thomas was not among the others because he simply could not bear it.  He certainly knew these men; he probably loved and trusted them.  But it wasn’t for their sakes that he had wandered the countryside for the past three years.  It wasn’t Peter that he followed.  It wasn’t Andrew that he built his life around.  It wasn’t James or John who he feared the loss of most.
This was the lowest point of Thomas’ life.  His absolute worst fear had come to pass: Jesus was gone, and he was left behind.  At least when Jesus had made that cryptic remark earlier that he “knew the way” there was the implication of an eventual reunion.  But no one comes back from death.  Right?  And so Thomas was in no mood for company, and was shunning even the companionship of his closest friends.  You know the personality type: “leave me alone,” they say.  “I just want to be by myself now,” they say.  “I don’t want to be around anyone else…they don’t understand.”  Pessimists.  Loners.  The Broken.
The disciples were not superstitious men, nor were the people of their day.  This is a common fallacy that opponents of the Gospel message often fall into.  We like to think of any people prior to color television as being superstitious, gullible, and stupid.  “Of course those idiots thought that Mary was divinely impregnated,” they scoff.  “They were too stupid to know the difference!”
Then why does it say that Joseph was of a mind to divorce her quietly?  He knew where babies came from.  He didn’t consider divine providence as a likely or even possible solution until Gabriel showed up.  And believe me, there must have been something remarkable about Gabriel’s presence, because Scripture is pretty clear on the subject of home invasion!  If someone calls my name from next to my bed one night, my first reaction in the absence of evidence attesting to their divine messenger status is to come up blasting.  It’s a win-win situation: presumably angels are immune to physical violence, and psychotic home-invaders are not.  Just like the people back then, we reach for a rational answer first.
Thomas was no different.  He knew that dead people didn’t rise again.  Well, to be more specific, he knew that dead people didn’t rise again unless Jesus told them to.  After all, he had a front row seat when Lazarus walked out of the tomb.  But this was different, Jesus Himself was dead now.  And so Thomas reasoned that they others were either deluded, or perhaps playing a cruel joke on him.
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
And so he despaired…at least until the following week.  But that’s getting ahead of the story.

This is the classic passage that gave Thomas his undeserved nickname.  Even in secular circles, calling someone a “doubting Thomas” implies an unhealthy degree of skepticism and/or pessimism in the face of evidence that should result in the doubter knowing better.  And yet, if we really examine this passage, is such a moniker warranted?

First, it is interesting to note that Thomas was not with the others when Jesus first appeared to them that Sunday afternoon/evening.  Scripture does not record where he might have been, but we can safely assume that he was not off running errands or getting a haircut.  The other disciples had locked themselves into a room (probably the same room that was used for the last supper) because they feared the chief priests and the religious leaders.  They were traumatized by the death of Christ; they feared further persecution.  And in their grief and fear, they turned to one another for comfort and company.

But not Thomas.

I think that Thomas was not among the others because he simply could not bear it.  He certainly knew these men; he probably loved and trusted them.  But it wasn’t for their sakes that he had wandered the countryside for the past three years.  It wasn’t Peter that he followed.  It wasn’t Andrew that he built his life around.  It wasn’t James or John who he feared the loss of most.

This was the lowest point of Thomas’ life.  His absolute worst fear had come to pass: Jesus was gone, and he was left behind.  At least when Jesus had made that cryptic remark earlier that he “knew the way” there was the implication of an eventual reunion.  But no one comes back from death.  Right?  And so Thomas was in no mood for company, and was shunning even the companionship of his closest friends.  You know the personality type: “leave me alone,” they say.  “I just want to be by myself now,” they say.  “I don’t want to be around anyone else…they don’t understand.”  Pessimists.  Loners.  The Broken.

The disciples were not superstitious men, nor were the people of their day.  This is a common fallacy that opponents of the Gospel message often fall into.  We like to think of any people prior to color television as being superstitious, gullible, and stupid.  “Of course those idiots thought that Mary was divinely impregnated,” they scoff.  “They were too stupid to know the difference!”

Then why does it say that Joseph was of a mind to divorce her quietly?  He knew where babies came from.  He didn’t consider divine providence as a likely or even possible solution until Gabriel showed up.  And believe me, there must have been something remarkable about Gabriel’s presence, because Scripture is pretty clear on the subject of home invasion!  If someone calls my name from next to my bed one night, my first reaction in the absence of evidence attesting to their divine messenger status is to come up blasting.  It’s a win-win situation: presumably angels are immune to physical violence, and psychotic home-invaders are not.  Just like the people back then, we reach for a rational answer first.

Thomas was no different.  He knew that dead people didn’t rise again.  Well, to be more specific, he knew that dead people didn’t rise again unless Jesus told them to.  After all, he had a front row seat when Lazarus walked out of the tomb.  But this was different, Jesus Himself was dead now.  And so Thomas reasoned that they others were either deluded, or perhaps playing a cruel joke on him.

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

And so he despaired…at least until the following week.  But that’s getting ahead of the story.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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