There is a movie we watch quite often at our house called The Miracle Maker. It is a claymation retelling of the life of Christ, and one of our favorites. But whenever I watch the scene with the calling of the disciples, I feel a little bad for Thomas. In this scene, Jesus comes to Thomas to call him to be one of the twelve, but Thomas sits away from the others, anxiously rubbing his hands, filled with doubt at Jesus’ call.
Poor Thomas! He said one thing and he is labeled forever as “doubting Thomas.” Every representation of him is colored by doubt. But if we look at other passages where he is mentioned, we might actually see a different story. There are three passages in the Bible which specifically mention Thomas. The first is in the story of the death of Lazarus as told in John. In this story, Jesus has heard Lazarus is sick, but doesn’t go to him right away. Bethany, where Lazarus lives, in close to Jerusalem, where the Jews are trying to kill Jesus. When Jesus finally says that he is going to Bethany, the disciples are surprised and afraid, thinking he might be killed. However, Jesus is firm in his intention to go, and in response Thomas says “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). If only this were the line he was known for! It shows courage and loyalty. It shows that he did indeed believe in Jesus’ mission.
The next time that Thomas is mentioned is at the Last Supper. Jesus has predicted his death, but then he comforts his disciples by telling them that he is going to prepare a place for them. He ends by saying, “You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:4). However, Thomas replies and says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Now I think this reveals something else about Thomas’ personality. He seems to have a need to know the details. I took a course in college which had a section on personality styles, and it gave personality styles for various Biblical characters. It was interesting to read how their actions and reactions could indicate certain personality styles, and they had labeled Thomas with a style that has a high need for accuracy, precision, and structure. People with this personality style tend to be loyal (Thomas’ willingness to die with Jesus), they need lots of information before making a decision (Thomas’ question to Jesus), AND they tend to be cautious before making a decision or subscribing to a new idea.
This is where Thomas’ “doubt” comes in. In John 20:25, the other disciples tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord and he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Actually, I’m not sure I would call this doubt, but rather, Thomas’ attempt at being wise. He was not going to easily subscribe to this new idea that Jesus was alive without receiving more evidence. When Thomas received that evidence, he immediately professed his belief (John 20:28). Not only did he immediately profess his belief, but he went on to act on that belief in very significant ways. Tradition holds that Thomas went on to evangelize through India, and was later martyred there.
As a side note, Thomas’ reaction is actually quite similar to the reaction of the other disciples when Jesus first appears to them. Luke 24 describes the other disciples hearing about Christ’s resurrection for the first time. Verse 11 says, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Later, when Jesus actually appears to them, they don’t believe it is him until he shows them his hands and feet, and also eats a piece of fish to prove he is not a ghost (Luke 24:36-43). So, the other disciples also needed the reassurance of seeing his wounds in order to believe.
So, when we consider all of these things – the times that we hear from Thomas in the Bible, the personality this reveals, and the reactions of the other disciples, I don’t think that we really have “doubting Thomas”. Instead, we have loyal Thomas, precise Thomas, and cautious Thomas. Furthermore, when we look at the rest of Thomas’ life, we see that he was marked by faithfulness to the Lord, even to the point of death.
So, what does this mean for us? Well, besides the fact that I think we should stop calling Thomas “doubting Thomas”, I think the idea of our personality styles impacting the way that we live our spiritual lives is very significant. It affects our own spiritual lives. We have tendency to idolize people like Peter or Paul, who were passionate and unrestrained in their faith. But not everyone is like that. Rather than living under the guilt of not being like these men, we can embrace the way that God has made us, in the way that we relate personally to God and in the way that we share God with others. This also has an impact on the way that we speak into the spiritual lives of others. As we bring Christ to people or as we help others grow in their faith, we need to be aware of the way that they relate to God. We can’t force them into a certain mold or become irritated if they don’t respond in the way we anticipate. Instead, we can use personality as a tool to help people approach Christ in a way that speaks to them.
And as for Thomas, I imagine that spending eternity in the presence of Christ has answered every question, filled every need, and been a full reward for his life of faithfulness!