Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Doubting Thomas: Implications of Religious Doubt

Thomas’ doubt after Jesus’ resurrection is a favorite story among Bible school teachers. Thomas was unfortunately not present with Jesus when He presented His resurrected body to the remaining twelve disciples. John 20:25 (English Standard Version) displays the reaction of Thomas when the disciples share with him the news of the resurrection. Thomas exclaims, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hands into his side, I will never believe.”  Thomas is a prime example of a person experiencing religious doubt. According to Hunsberger, McKenzie, Pratt & Pancer (1993), religious doubt is defined as “…a feeling of uncertainty toward, and a questioning of, a religious teachings and beliefs” (p. 28). Further, the argument asks the question: does religious doubt promote healthy or unhealthy mental hygiene? Theologians and researchers alike debate the impact of religious doubt on psychopathology and mental illness.
                While some scholars believe that having religious doubt is important and essential to truly have a complete and truthful understanding of Christ (Krause & Wulff, 2004) many researchers have contributed religious doubt with less satisfaction with their health, greater depressive symptoms, general anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, paranoia, hostility, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms (Galek, Krause, Ellison, Kudler & Flannelly, 2007). So what is the correct response? Should we as Christians fear any doubt that we have in Christ and his teachings? After all, our mental health seems to be at stake. As Krause & Wulff (2004) explain, what happens to the Christian man when the faith that he has depended on for his identity is called into question? But let us turn back to the Scripture to see how both Jesus Christ and Thomas handled the doubt that Thomas experienced. Jesus responds to Thomas’ doubt by saying “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe: (John 20:27, English Standard Version). He invited Thomas to explore. Further, he does not condemn Thomas for his unbelief; but instead; Jesus shows Himself to Thomas and asks him to believe.
                Just as a common cold left untreated can turn into a medical disaster, religious doubt left unchecked can turn into psychological problems. James 1:5-8 describes the disastrous effects of unchecked doubt. James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously …But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” The Lord does not tell His people to ignore the doubt they may have; He asks them to seek out truth amongst the doubt. When we acknowledge our doubt, and seek the Lord, He will always show Himself to the seeker. James 4:8 verifies this promise, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” What was Thomas’ response when he stepped out in faith and touched the scars of Jesus’ resurrection? “My Lord and My God!” was Thomas’ words. (John 20:28). This may have been one of the first times Thomas acknowledges the Lord as his personal God and Savior. His search for truth created a trajectory change in his life. After Christ’s ascension, Thomas became a great missionary in present day Iraq and Iran proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ (Wilson, 2012). Though research may say that religious doubt can create psychological disorders, if we seek God amongst our doubt, He will surely take us by the hand and show us His truth and His promises.
Galek, K., Krause, N., Ellison, C. G., Kudler, T., & Flannelly, K. J. (2007). Religious doubt and mental health across the lifespan. Journal of Adult Development, 14, 16-25.
Hunsberger, B., McKenzie, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, M. S. (1993). Religious doubt: A social psychological analysis. In Research in the social scientific study of religion (pp. 27-51). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Krause, N., & Wulff, K. M. (2004). Religious doubt and health: Exploring the potential dark side of religion. Sociology of Religion, 65(1), 35-56.
Wilson, R. F. (2003). Learning faith from doubting Thomas. Retrieved from LeadershipU website:


  1. Ashton,

    I found your post to be very interesting. Linking religious doubt and hygiene had never crossed my mind, but I envision that severe doubt could cause a sense of immobility or lack of motivation for a person which could then impact his/her sense of personal hygiene. In the case of Thomas, though he did doubt, I believe his doubt led to a greater understanding of Christ. He was not content living only at the word of the other disciples’ experiences; Thomas seemed to have wanted his own personal and real encounter with Jesus Christ. He was the only disciple to touch the wounds of Jesus, and I imagine that encounter would change his life forever. Had Jesus not prompted Thomas to explore the wounds, I wonder if Thomas would have believed or if he would have continued in his doubt. Untended doubt can indeed lead to problems as you mentioned, but I am thankful that the Spirit draws us near to Him for our lack of faith will never nullify the faithfulness of God (Romans 3:3). Even in Thomas’s unbelief, Jesus was still faithful to let Him wander and seek his way to the Savior; and even if Thomas had not come to belief, Jesus would have remained faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). What an amazing and faithful Savior!

  2. Ashton,

    I appreciate your exploration on the topic of doubt and its place in the life of a Christian. Most Christians are thought never to entertain doubt and believe what they are told by their parents or pastors. This certainly should not be the case and will certainly psychologically impact a person who has doubts. I believe one must explore what they believe and why they believe what they do in order to have a solid foundation that can not be moved in times of trials and tribulation. It is quite true that as Jesus invited Thomas to explore His wounds and believe, He will show Himself to us if we need Him to. We ought not to just doubt but search for the truth to answer our questions just as Thomas searched.


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