Stories, we learned in our early school days in English lessons, are made up of a plot line that has three main parts. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Beginning. Middle. End. That’s a story.
Maybe sermons are the same way, but I am going to skip to the end, and tell you the main point or theme that I hope you will carry away from my words today, and then support it with the rest of the story. Here it is: What if not knowing is the point? Can we all be okay with not knowing? And beyond being okay with not knowing, can we actually love the process of not knowing, because not knowing is just how it is?
Was that confusing? Let’s see if I can make it more clear.
I do not like scary movies. I’ve tried to like scary movies, and be one of those brave people who enjoy them, like Father Martin, for example. But, I think I have to come to grips with the reality that we are all differently and wonderfully made, and some people (like me!) are just better off NOT watching horror movies. They give me nightmares. They make my heart pound in a not-good way. I even roped a friend into this attempt to watch scary movies. Like, if you have already seen the movie, please watch it with me, and then warn me so I know when to cover my eyes and when it’s okay to look again. And having that reassurance of someone who has been there before is often a good way to navigate life. That’s why we have mentors, and career coaches, and support groups like AA where they have sponsors for the newer people in recovery to call upon.
I wonder if that’s the dynamic between Jesus and Thomas. I want to focus on the week or two when Thomas has not seen Jesus, but all the others have. The apostles have seen how it ends – they know of the resurrection of christ. And they tell Thomas, and he’s like “no way, I cannot handle that.” And Jesus appears again to the group and breathes into them the holy spirit (can you imagine how amazing that would be?) and he spends time with Thomas in his fear and uncertainty and says, “yes, Thomas, you can handle the horror and the wonder of all the emotions that come with my death and resurrection. See it for yourself.” But really, Thomas is not too far off from the rest of disciples in any other story of the bible, right?
It’s just this one week or so where Thomas is called out as being the doubter, the one who doesn’t trust until he sees what the other disciples see. But we know from the rest of the stories in the bible that all the disciples fall short time and again of being faithful believers – they often came across as petty and bumbling, falling a sleep a lot of important times, denying they even know their friend Jesus at the most important moments, being jealous of one another and arguing about which one is the greatest, or favorite. I love the disciples. It’s just the way we all seem to navigate the world throughout all recorded history. Even when you would think that humanity would learn, or get better about these kind of issues. Not having all the answers because of our limited perspective seems to be the human condition. It’s not hard to put ourselves into the sandals of disciples on any this, either. I can imagine the confusion and fear of Thomas. I can imagine the sureness of those who saw Jesus.
There are lots of issues where reasonable and unreasonable minds continue to differ: climate change is real and people are contributing to it. No it isn’t, and if it was, the impact of people is negligible. Vaccinations will harm your child; vaccines will save your child’s life. Women are equal to men in every way that matters. No they are not. Jesus our Savior is alive. That’s simply not possible. What’s the point of these arguments? These kind of disagreements are surely not the point of community. I’m not saying they don’t matter. Sometimes we have to take a bold stand for what we know is right, no matter the outcome or consequences. I do think all of our arguments will be ultimately resolved, and then the person who had it wrong is going to feel like a pretty big fool. But right now, the person who is wrong has no idea, and often times, they have to figure that out for themselves.
How we love each other through our differences will be remembered more than anything we say.
All our journeys/stories begin and end with God, so even when we feel very lost, and on the opposite side of a very large gulf between our neighbors in Christ, we can never be truly lost if we focus on the love we carry with us.
It’s just not possible to know everything, and we need to be okay with that. I get to work with law students who are trying to figure out their career paths. What is the job I want? What’s the job I can get? Will anyone even want to hire me? Am I worth being hired at all? These issues, like a lot of the issues where we feel uncertain or where we are willing to fight with others about the issue, strike to the very heart of who we are as people – our worth, our identity, our place in the world.
I see that these students are struggling because of where they are in time. All of the things that are causing stress, keeping them up nights, making them feel unwell, and making them doubt themselves and their choices – it’s all going to make sense to them soon. They have to go through the struggle of it. They have to not know before they get on the path to their career. Other people can point them the way, or tell them how much promise they have, or tell them it’s all going to work out, but they don’t share those feelings at all, no matter what anyone can tell them. The disciples saw Jesus. Thomas didn’t see Jesus – not then, and not yet. But he did see Jesus. We are – each of us – every one of us – on our own timelines for knowing God, and for seeing Jesus, and for finding our faith within this world. There’s an old spiritual that goes something like this (and I am probably getting it wrong but I think it goes): you gotta learn to walk with Jesus. Nobody else can do it for you.
I think of faith development similar to human development. There are stages of concrete thinking and there are stages of nuanced thinking. Each stage is important to our whole. We bring everything to our faith – our rational minds, our ability to be open to the possibility that we have it all wrong, our passion for good, and yes, even our doubts. None of these things can or should be checked at the door when you walk into church, or into relationship with God. Or to school, or to work. Or to finding the truth. Sometimes the truth can be determined. You examine the facts, you logically rifle through the possible conclusions, and you reach a determination that’s pretty absolute. For example, we know that if we go outside there are roses along the wall of the church that Frank Schramling tended. Fact. I haven’t seen him trim the roses, but I know that he does. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. So keep disagreeing but don’t discount anyone’s humanity, and for some issues don’t discount that you might be wrong. I mean, what if we are wrong about everything? it’s a pretty interesting thought exercise to say, “but what if I am wrong on this?” I admit there are some topics where I cannot do it. But there’s a saying – the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. (I’m sure Thomas is relived to hear this saying.) If you know everything, then maybe God should just step aside and let you drive the universe.
The “not knowing” place is the way we spend most of our lives. So, they key to getting through “not knowing” in my opinion, is to be okay with it. Can you be okay with not knowing? Beyond that, can you love it? Can you love not knowing? There’s so much promise in what might be coming next. If stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, then we as humans on the journey are stuck in the middle perpetually until the end. We don’t get to choose when it ends or how it ends. We can find a way to love not knowing, though. And Jesus will be there with us to assuage our doubts. Can you love not knowing?