I have never been the first person to believe something, and maybe that is because of the way I was raised. I lived with my mom, who was an alcoholic. She was married and divorced seven times, and we lived all around the United States. I was always having my environment changed, and the adult role models I was exposed to were no role models at all. So I became extremely cynical and hardened at a very young age. I had to fend for myself and take care of myself.
So, as I was making my way through life and saw the emptiness of the lifestyle my mom was pursuing, I went on a little search of my own. I knew there had to be something else to life. For me, it was a process of elimination.
In high school, I came upon these Christians who I thought were a bit on the dodgy side. I thought, No one can actually believe the things they say they believe. There they are, carrying Bibles around, talking about God like he is their next-door neighbor. I suspected it was all an act, that it couldn’t possibly be real.
But then I tried on a new thought for size: What if the Christians are right? What if a person really could come into a relationship with God? I wondered whether God could change a person like me, a person who is cynical and full of skepticism and doubt.
Then I decided to eavesdrop on one of their meetings on the front lawn of the high school. I don’t remember much of what the speaker said that day, but he made one statement that got my attention: “Jesus said, ‘He who is not with me is against me'” (Luke 11:23 NIV). I looked around at the Christians and thought, Well, they’re definitely with him. Does that mean I am against Jesus? I had never really had any problem with Jesus. He seemed like a pretty nice guy. I had seen all of his movies. Before I knew it, I was responding to the speaker’s invitation to walk forward and give my life to Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, I was thinking, This won’t work for me. But I am happy to say today that I was wrong.
After that, my life began to change. The bitterness that had been building for years simply left. The emptiness was gone, and so was the loneliness. My skepticism gave way to belief and conviction.
Maybe you are a bit on the skeptical side like I was. You might find this surprising for a pastor to say, but not all skepticism is necessarily wrong. We may think that anyone who entertains doubts is lacking faith. But it has been said that doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.
The Bible tells the story of a skeptic who is often referred to as Doubting Thomas. I don’t really think this is a fair title for him, however. I would call him Honest Thomas or Skeptical Thomas instead. He was the kind of guy who thought for himself.
After Jesus had been unexpectedly taken away and crucified, it came as a shock to his followers, even though Jesus had predicted it. But as he had promised, he would not only go to the cross and die, but he would also rise again from the dead. So three days later, he was alive and appearing to people. Among them were the disciples. Thomas, however, had missed that meeting. And when the disciples told him what happened, he said, “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 it” (John 20:25 NIV).
Skepticism is the first step toward truth. God loves skeptics, and he wants to turn them into believers. There is a difference between being a skeptic and being a downright unbeliever. A skeptic is open to truth; an unbeliever is not. Skepticism is honesty; unbelief is stubbornness. Skepticism is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness. Unbelievers have no intention of changing or believing. They will offer up the well-worn excuses, but the fact of the matter is that even when confronted with evidence to refute their unbelief, they reject it out of hand because they don’t want to believe. On the other hand, a skeptic – an honest skeptic – when presented with the facts, may change. That is because he or she has honest and heartfelt questions about God.
The next time the disciples got together, Thomas was there, and Jesus showed up. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27 NIV). Thomas didn’t need any more proof. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28). That is very important, because Jesus was far more than a great moral teacher or enlightened guru. Thomas proclaimed him as both Lord and God. Upon seeing the risen and living Jesus, his skepticism gave way to belief.
That can happen for you as well. You can come to God with your doubts, with your questions and even your skepticism, and you can say, “Lord, help me. I don’t have this all figured out. I don’t have the answers to all of my questions. But I believe.”
The Bible records the story of a man who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NIV). When I made a commitment to Christ as a teenager, I was full of doubt. I wasn’t challenging God, but I did say, “God, if you are real, you will have to make yourself real to me, because I have a lot of hurdles to get over. I have a lot of doubt. I have a lot of cynicism. If you are real, you will have to show that to me personally.”
God answered that prayer for me. And he will do the same for you.