Why Thomas the Doubter?

Why has our community of faith chosen as our namesake saint someone who is famous for his doubt? The answer is that we have chosen him as our model of faith precisely because of his doubt.

See, there’s something interesting to note about Thomas. Thomas isn’t even his real name; it’s his nicknameThomas (ָתּאוֹ ָמא Ta’oma) is just the Aramaic word for “twin.” As Simon Peter is “the Rock,” Thomas is “the Twin.”

St Thomas the Doubter, model of faith

All of which raises an interesting question: whose twin is he? It stands to reason that Thomas must be somebody’s twin. Even if twin is just meant to suggest that he really looks like someone else, who is the person that he looks like? It’s unusual to call someone twin or look-alike and not say who it is he is a twin to or who it is he looks like.

But then again, the group Thomas belongs to isn’t just any old grouping of friends. This group is a master and his disciples. If one of the members of that group is called the Twin and his twin is unspoken, it’s likely that it’s got to be the master. That is, Thomas is Jesus’ twin or look-alike. Now, if true, this would explain why Judas needed to identify Jesus to the temple guard in the garden—because there was another man there who looked a lot like him.

But let’s consider the implications of Thomas being Jesus’ twin. If Jesus is the model of perfect faith, and his twin is Thomas, who models doubt, then what we understand is that faith and doubt are not antitheses—they’re twins. As the poet Kahlil Gibran said, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” Faith and doubt are paired together. Bound up in relationship. Just as you cannot have just one twin, you cannot have faith without its twin, doubt. Like a yin and yang, the two go hand in hand.

Faith, doubt, and uncertainty are inextricably linked.

Faith is at its best when it embraces doubt, its twin. In embracing uncertainty, faith does not wind up depleted, but enriched. When we stand at the edge of the abyss of unknowing, we can turn our backs to it and pretend it does not exist, or we can stretch our arms wide and embrace it. When we embrace our unknowing, we find that faith is not lost in the profound depths but becomes profound itself. In embracing the emptiness, both faith and life become filled.

And so, for a community seeking to embrace the power of faith that comes with embracing uncertainty, St. Thomas the Doubter is a perfect namesake saint.

Portions of this essay appear in Rev. Schaefer’s book The Certainty of Uncertainty: The Way of Inescapable Doubt and Its Virtue as well as in one of his sermons on faithful doubt.

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