Jesus’ disciple Thomas gets a bad rap with the shame-name we’ve given him. We teach using “Doubting Thomas” as the bad example, attaching his moniker to people we accuse of lacking—or having lackluster—faith.
But note that when Thomas needs proof, Jesus doesn’t render judgment. Neither does Jesus provide proof the moment Thomas asks. In fact, Jesus waits a while before meeting Thomas’ need—eight days, to be exact. Thomas hears an incredible story from his friends and needs some proof to believe them, and Jesus waits eight days before giving Thomas what he’s seeking.
Jesus’ delay in showing up for Thomas is the perfect example of an effective youth minister’s response to teenagers who struggle to make sense of things. Wait a few days. Don’t feel compelled to convince. And definitely don’t require a faith response from someone who’s confronting a fact deficiency.
I’ll bet Thomas grappled that entire week, trying to conjoin his head knowledge with his heart’s desire. Yet Jesus didn’t rush to show up, fearing that Thomas would fall away or go off the deep end of doubt. Jesus just let the disciple marinate in his own doubt until the time was right to respond.
Interestingly, Thomas is clear from the very beginning about what he needs to move forward in faith. I wonder how many of us have actually asked a teenager caught in the clutches of questions just what it would take for them to release and believe. The answer might not be as concrete as we think.
Thomas needed physical evidence, but what if a teenager needs only a reminder of who Jesus has been to them? Or what if their “proof” is just a hug from a trusted adult when they feel alone or abandoned?
Proof comes in many packages:
- For some, it’s a reminder to live by what they know, not how they feel. This might be especially true for teenagers who haven’t yet learned to wrangle emotions and corral them in the right pasture.
- For others, it’s leaning into how they feel and not on what they “know.” Maybe they’re like Thomas. They see with their own eyes but can’t reconcile that with how they should feel about a new and incongruent truth.
- Maybe it’s a clear, physical request: “My dad needs a job” or “Don’t let my mom die.” Jesus might not always show himself clearly in those requests, but he sure did for Thomas.
- Or perhaps teenagers just need the proof of waiting, like bread waiting to rise. It’s “proofing” in a whole different way.
The key is reminding teenagers that their requests for proof—whatever they are—fall on the timetable of the Holy One. And he might choose to wait a while before answering. During that delay, young people might even become contented in their doubt.
In his moment of ambiguity, Thomas doesn’t try to find a way to walk away from Jesus; instead, he seeks a way to lean in. Sometimes that takes eight days—or longer. Rarely do three points and a poem suffice. Jesus shows up and offers Thomas peace and then gives him proof. And no shaming follows…only a blessing.
When teenagers contend with confusion, doubt, or disbelief, fling open the door to help them wait on Jesus, who offers peace and lavishes blessings.