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Encountering God

Life can sometimes make skeptics and cynics out of us. We begin to question everything. We see so much deception, manipulation, scandals, and abuse of power, then doubt becomes our M.O. We doubt what we see, what we hear, and what we read. We assume people are lying—or at least not being fully truthful. 

Consider the history of misleading information from trusted authorities: Asbestos was once hailed as a safe building material. Smoking while pregnant was recommended by health workers. DDT was celebrated as a successful breakthrough in insecticides. And Heroin tablets were considered a non-addictive alternative to morphine. Let that sink in.   

It’s not hard to understand why some people now doubt whether or not the earth is actually round, whether we really landed on the moon in 1969, whether Covid-19 was a natural virus or cooked up in a lab, and if we may be trapped in our own self-made version of The Matrix. Since history, science, and government are questioned as reliable sources, of course Christianity and the Bible got thrown into the mix.        

Can we believe the claims of Christianity? Should we trust the Bible? If we summarize, condense and reduce all the doubts about Christianity into one event, it’s the Resurrection: Did Jesus really rise from his own death?

Honest questions, understandable objections, and troubling doubts—lots of them from young, impressionable, and confused minds. For a time, they brought their doubts to trusted religious leaders. They brought them to church.  

But here’s the sad reality: the church has not always been a safe, welcoming place to express doubt and ask questions. Barna research shows that one of the six reasons young people are leaving the church is because it’s unfriendly toward doubters. Doubters and skeptics not welcome! 

Jesus wouldn’t be happy about that because it flies in the face of how he handled the doubt of His own followers. Perhaps no greater demonstration can be found than the story of Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ in John 20. Here are three encouraging considerations from that story to unleash on your doubts: 

(1) The biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are raw, unedited, and sound authentic. For example, all four gospels list women as the primary witnesses. No big deal in 2021 America. But in First Century Palestine, that was huge. The testimony of women did not carry weight. In fact, it wasn’t even admissible in court. They were not trusted or reliable witnesses. So it would be insane to list women as the first witnesses to an event—unless that’s exactly the way it happened, which it was! 

Jesus’ own followers did not believe his promise to rise again. None of them were there when it happened! Think of that: the closest, most loyal and devoted followers of Jesus did not bother showing up for the most important event of His life. And that was after hearing their master predict this multiple times. In fact, Jesus talked about his resurrection so often that even his enemies remembered and posted a Roman Guard at the entrance to the tomb on the third day.  

If you were trying to fabricate a believable story to launch a religious movement, you would not list women as the primary witnesses, and you certainly wouldn’t showcase the unbelief of the original founders. You’d clean that up—do some editing. None of them initially believed. Some even left the city to return to their hometown (Luke 24). They were sad, afraid, confused, and anxious. What they were not, was confident.

The story has the ring of authenticity to it. We often forget the nature of the early followers and leaders of Christianity. They were flawed men and women, just like us. They stood in just as much need of God’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness as we. 

(2) Rather than dismiss the initial doubts and questions of his followers, Jesus welcomed and satisfied them. John records the first group appearance of Jesus to a locked room full of his frightened disciples. They saw the Lord, and were “glad,” then began sharing their experience with those not present. Notably absent was Thomas, the more pessimistic of the group, who came to be known as “Doubting Thomas.”  

He refused to believe the eyewitness report of his closest friends, and instead listed his own criteria of belief. Unless he saw Jesus in person, and touched his scarred wounds, he would “in no way” believe. That is, until Jesus showed up again:

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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” —John 20:26–29

Jesus did not scold or upbraid Thomas. On the contrary. He invited him to consider the evidence: His own risen, physical, visible body—with wounds. Although famous artwork of this event shows Thomas poking his fingers into the spear wound of Jesus, that’s not found in this story. What we do read is that Thomas lost his doubt—fast. It was the wounds that melted his heart. Jesus came, not with more teaching, but with a reminder of His mission: Atonement and Restoration. He wasn’t our example. He was our Savior.  

(3) All of the Apostles eventually embraced and preached the Resurrection of Jesus—and most were martyred for their faith. Doubting Thomas became confessing Thomas. His declaration is one of the clearest, most powerful, and compelling confessions in the Bible of the deity of Jesus Christ. Thomas does not say, “The Lord!” He says, “MY Lord and My God!” That powerful statement came out of the crucible of doubt. Doubt is a terrible place to live, but can be a powerful place to grow. If you have doubts, take them to Jesus. Behold His wounds, and let confession follow. 

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