November 8, 2013

Doubt and unbelief are not the same thing

How did the church in those darker ages treat doubt? They burned the heretic! How awful. Reformation brought us past that physically, but have we got past it morally? What does the modern church say to skeptics? We don’t burn them, but often brand those who cannot see the truths of Christianity as we see them.

In my studies this week, each lecture points to the fact that God alone reveals truth about Himself. If He did not do that, no one could know anything for certain. People would either say there is no God or invent one.

Because He reveals Himself, there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. That is, doubt cannot believe because God has not revealed Himself to that person. On the other hand, unbelief has had a revelation from God and refuses to believe it. The difference is between can’t and won’t.

There is good reason that Thomas has become known as “Doubting Thomas” rather than an apostate. He believed in some ways, but the resurrection was too much for him. He needed a revelation from God . . .

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24–25)

Thomas struggled with news of the resurrection. He needed to see Jesus and Jesus accommodated him.

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.” (John 20:26–27)

Most people remember the story only to this point, but there is more. Thomas responded to this very literal revelation with these words, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) These are words that even a doubter can say, but are never heard from the lips of those who refuse to believe.

Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt can’t believe, unbelief won’t believe. Doubt looks for light, unbelief is content with darkness. Jesus attacked that love of darkness rather than light, but was respectful and generous with the intellectual questioning of Thomas, Philip, Nicodemus, and many others who came to him with doubts.

I wonder if Thomas stood there waiting for a rebuke for his unbelief? If he did, that never happened. Instead, Christ gave him facts. He met those doubts with teaching. He said . . .

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. (Luke 24:39)

Is it a surprise that the Spirit of Christ is a scientific Spirit? He grounded faith in facts, in historical realities, in a real person who really lived, died, and rose from the dead. Our Christian theology can never be nebulous human versions of who God is, but divine truths based on the facts that God has revealed about Himself.

Faith is not opposed to reality and truth. Instead, it flies in the face of our desires, what we want to be true. If I want to live my own life and make my own choices, I could never believe in Jesus Christ who promises truth and abundant life to all who follow Him. Doubt may not be certain of where that following will take me, but unbelief decides that I’d rather do my own thing than yield my life to Him.

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