Over the more than six years of leading the Ratio Christi ministry at our local university campus, I’ve had a number of students approach me with their doubts about the Christian faith.
Some of these students have been Christians, others non-Christians.
Some have been skeptical inquirers, others struggling believers.
Some were genuinely seeking answers to their doubts, others were looking for reasons to reject the faith.
Unfortunately, what many of these young people have come to expect—and what some have, in fact, experienced for themselves—is that those Christians in whom they confide about their doubts will ultimately chastise the doubter and dismiss their concerns as a lack of faith.
Perhaps you know of some such Christians or even whole churches who would treat doubters in this way. Or perhaps you are, in fact, one of those very believers who have rebuked those skeptical of whether or not this whole Christianity thing is actually true.
But is this really the way in which believers are supposed to respond to those wrestling with unbelief? Is there not a better, more loving way of engaging with doubters?
Indeed there is.
How Jesus Handled Doubters
When we consider the question of what would be a proper Christian response to doubters, there is, of course, no better teacher than Christ himself. And there is perhaps no better case study than that of “Doubting Thomas.”
We’re told in John 20:19-29 that shortly after rising from the dead, Jesus appeared to his core group of disciples in the upper room. Not surprisingly, this led all of them to believe. There was only one problem: one of the disciples, Thomas, wasn’t even there.
As a result, he refuses to believe the testimony of the other disciples when they tell him about the risen Jesus and says he would only believe if he could see and touch the risen Jesus for himself.
So, when the resurrected Lord finally reappears to the disciples, this time Thomas included, how does he respond to the doubter’s doubts?
Does he dismiss Thomas’ doubts and criticize him for his skepticism? Not quite. Rather, he accommodates Thomas, granting his request for more evidence beyond the disciples’ testimony. Jesus gave him the answers to his questions and concerns and called him out of doubt and into belief.
And you know what? The story ends with Thomas proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ doubts had been put to rest. His skepticism had disappeared. By virtue of the fact that Jesus had claimed to be God in the flesh and then proved those claims to be true with miraculous signs, the chief of which was his resurrection from the dead, Thomas (and the other disciples) could now wholeheartedly praise him as Lord.
Walking with Doubters
Following in Jesus’ footsteps, when it comes to dealing with doubters, we should first recognize something we should not do: Just as Jesus didn’t rebuke or otherwise dismiss Thomas for wrestling with doubt, neither should we do so with doubters today.
We’re commanded in 1 Peter 3:15 to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” and to “do it with gentleness and respect.” That “anyone” includes doubters, and when they come with their questions and concerns about the faith, they are to be treated with the same gentleness and respect as anyone else.
Furthermore, after having himself just given a defense of the faith, Jude in v. 22 of his letter tells us to “have mercy on those who doubt.”
This is exactly what Jesus does with Thomas. But if Jesus could be so compassionate toward one of his core disciples about something as crucial as the resurrection, how much more should we also be compassionate toward those today who have doubts about this and other aspects of our faith?
We Christians ought to be compassionate and caring toward doubters, no matter who they are or what exactly it is they’re doubting.
We ought to be thoughtfully wrestling through their doubts with them, by their side, showing the love, gentleness, respect, and patience that Jesus himself would no doubt show them.
And as more and more doubts are answered, skepticism will give way to faith, and those of us who had been wrestling with these now-answered doubts will be able to join with the apostle Thomas in wholeheartedly proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”
An Invitation to Doubters
If you’re personally struggling with doubts about Christianity, please know that you’re not alone. You don’t have to work through these difficult issues by yourself. We at Ratio Christi Canada would be happy to walk alongside you as you wrestle through your doubts.
Or if you would rather a more personal touch, then please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or even objections to the faith you may have. We would be happy to listen and talk with you about whatever doubts you’re facing.
For the record, the other disciples also originally doubted in Jesus’ resurrection and likewise only believed once the risen Lord appeared to them and invited them to touch him (Luke 24:36-39). So it’s a little unfair to refer to Thomas as the doubter. We should, perhaps, instead call the entire lot of them “the Doubting Eleven.”
Again, same as he did for the other disciples.