DOUBTING THOMAS AND HIS FAITH
T. PIERCE BROWN
As I was meditating on the doubts and faith of Thomas, the thought occurred to me that most of us probably have not done justice either to Thomas or the subject of faith as we have normally or ordinarily discussed them. With no effort to excuse his doubts, let us look more carefully at the story.
First, let me suggest that we have little reason to apply the pejorative appellation, “doubting,” to him any more than to any other Apostles. (You may now suspect what the “T” in my name stands for!) Mark16:11, 13, 14, Luke 24:11, 25, 41 and other references show that the other Apostles had also heard that He was risen and believed not.
Although it behooves us to be skeptical of many reports we hear about miraculous events and supernatural things, I am not particularly interested in upholding the skepticism of Thomas in this instance, even though it does have some redeeming features. He at least expressed the willingness to believe when he was presented with what he considered adequate evidence, and was not intellectually dishonest enough to disregard it when it was available.
My purpose now is to suggest some additional thoughts on the scope, nature, and basis of faith. Most of us in the Lord’s church have properly emphasized the Biblical truth that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom.10:17). Jesus suggests in John 20:21 that faith also comes by sight, or as a result of sight. The fact that “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) does not mean faith and sight are antithetical.
This involves another truth that we seldom emphasize. There is a difference in a general faith in a person and specific faith in a proposition. If we had been in the presence of Jesus and had seen him raise the dead, cast out demons, and do all the mighty works that he did, and someone asks us, “Do you believe in Jesus–that He is indeed the Christ, or that He has power to cure blind eyes?” We could answer, “Yes,” even though we had not heard him say, “I can cure blind eyes.” That faith in the person of Jesus would not have been produced by hearing the Word of God on that particular issue, but by seeing the acts of Christ in various similar circumstances. But if we are speaking of a particular proposition such as, “I have faith that Christ will cure the blind eyes of John Doe,” we have no right to make that statement unless we have heard his word with reference to that.
Paul illustrated that truth in Romans 1:20-21 when he tells us that “they are without excuse” because they should have had faith in God (recognized his eternal power and Godhead) as a result of what they had seen. For “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” The atheist, who does not believe in the person of God is guilty and without excuse, not because he has not read the Word and allowed it to produce faith, both in God, and in propositions about God, but because he has not been honest with what he has seen. Faith in the reality of God can come from seeing nature, as well as by hearing the Word of God. But faith in a particular proposition may come only by hearing that proposition. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” is a proposition that can not be believed simply as a result of looking at nature, but is believed by hearing it because of a prior faith in the person of Jesus who said it.
Notice another important thing: If one has proper faith in Jesus (or anyone else) as a person, it necessarily involves faith in any proposition he may announce, or statement he may make. But the converse is not necessarily true. That is, one may believe a particular statement of a person without having faith in that person. For example, an atheist who is a known liar may say, “You can buy chickens at the grocery store for 39› per pound.” You may believe that statement, without having any faith in the person. But if you have faith in a person as a truthful, trustworthy person, and he says, “You can get them today at this grocery store for 29› a pound,” you will believe that statement no matter how improbable it may be, because you have faith in the person who made it.
Thomas acted improperly in rejecting the testimony of credible witnesses. It was not a result of an atheistic disposition and a deliberate refusal to examine testimony. When he saw Jesus and heard Him speak, he then had faith in the person of Jesus, and as a necessary consequence, faith in anything that Jesus might say.
Part of my effort in this article is to suggest that we need to do more than have faith in particular propositions; we need to so examine the evidence that we have faith in the person of Jesus, and therefore be willing to trust in any statement or proposition he makes. In addition to that, we need to trust in Him to the extent that we are willing to commit all our lives to Him beyond any reference to any particular statement about specific events or belief in any particular proposition.
It seems apparent that one of our failures is that we may have equated belief in a particular proposition of or about Jesus with trust in the person of the Savior. They are different things. For example, you may believe that Jesus arose from the dead, but not be willing to trust Him with your life. You may believe that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and not be willing to do that. You may be willing to admit the proposition expressed by Jesus that “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth” and that which Paul expressed in Col. 3:17, “Whatsoever you do in word or deed do all in the name (or by the authority) of the Lord Jesus” without actually trusting the Lord enough to do that!
So the following things should be realized: 1. Belief in the being of a person or a proposition about a person, and faith in the person himself are two different things. You may believe that God is, or that a doctor has a degree without being willing to let either of them operate on you! 2. Faith in a person may come in two ways: a. By hearing (Rom.10:17, John20:31) or b. By seeing (John20:29). 3. Faith in a particular statement of a person or about a person comes by hearing. For example, you might say, “I have great faith in you, so I believe you will take me toNashvilletomorrow.” You have no right to do that, for faith in a proposition, “I will take you toNashvilletomorrow” comes by hearing. If you have faith in me either because of what you have seen or heard, and you heard me say, “I will take you toNashvilletomorrow,” you would have a right to believe that proposition. Otherwise, it is merely an opinion.
The religious world in general continually makes the kind of mistake suggested above. Because they have a general kind of belief in the person of Jesus, they assume this gives them the right to believe almost any kind of specific proposition they can imagine as if He had said it. That is not faith, but opinion, and many of our brethren seem to be as guilty of such as any member of a denomination.