This morning, in our gospel, we meet our doubting Thomas. Poor Thomas – throughout history, he has gotten a bad rap, and his own cliché: don’t be a doubting Thomas, people will say, about those who ask too many questions, who are too indecisive and wishy-washy. It is not meant as a compliment. Indeed, we probably wouldn’t put Thomas in charge, if we had the choice, or elect him to a position of power. Doubt has traditionally not been valued as a leadership skill: we want leaders who are confident and decisive, who take charge, and take care of things. We want leaders who make us feel better about our own uncertainty. Wracked with our own doubt, we do not want a doubting Thomas running things. And yet, doubt is trending. According to a recent essay out of the LSE University, doubt is powerful. The London School of Economics published a paper called “The Productive Power of Doubt.” It contains, in fact, rebuttals to the kind of leaders we tend to celebrate - ones who are single-minded and over-confident. Leaders who are blind to their own weaknesses. Who act with certainty in the face of uncertainty. One clear example, of course, has been the pandemic, where facts have been constantly changing, where the science has been rapidly evolving: in that situation, a leader who is comfortable with doubt, who can live with uncertainty, and move forward cautiously in the face of it, was what we needed. Doubt, as the authors of this paper pointed out, forces us to ask questions, to seek different answers, to see another side, to be innovative. The voice of doubt reminds us that we do not – and cannot - know everything. The ability to live with uncertainty, and yet still move forward, the writers concluded, is an undervalued leadership skill. Think about Thomas, who was not there, who did not get the benefit of seeing Jesus as did the other disciples, yet who is now being asked to believe in a miracle. Hold on, Thomas says, I need to see for myself. Until I have seen the marks of the nails on his hand, and touch them with my own, I will not believe. Can we blame Thomas really? It was a lot to ask, and the cost of belief for those disciples was very high – much higher than for us, sitting here today. Thomas asks a question the disciples didn’t have to – for they had already seen proof of the Resurrection with their own eyes. Let’s not be too quick to cast aspersions his way. Jesus hears of Thomas’s doubt and pays him a visit. He invites him to touch the wounds of the nails on his hands, and to reach out his hand to the cut on his side. “Do not doubt, but believe,” he tells Thomas. And we know that Thomas does believe, and becomes one of the most faithful and selfless disciples of the gospel. What a gift Jesus gave to Thomas. In a way, it was the easy way out: Thomas had doubts, and Jesus offered him proof to resolve the matter once and for all. He did not chastise Thomas for his doubts; or kick him out of the disciple club. He did not declare him less worthy. This was not an either/or situation for Jesus: one blessing does not rule out another. Jesus, we are to understand, values us even when we have doubts. Still, Thomas has a clear advantage. It is not likely to be so clear-cut for us, listening to this story more than two thousand years later. Yet, Jesus speaks to us, as if across time: Thomas, Jesus says, now believes because he has seen. Blessed are you who have not seen and have yet come to believe.” We are reminded by Jesus that there are many paths to belief – we may feel the presence of God solidly in our midst, we may read and ponder the scripture, we may sense God in nature, and we may search within and without for the voice of the divine. And so on, and so on. Our paths to belief are our own. And yet, they are most certainly marked by doubt. Peter experienced it when he denied Jesus; Thomas felt it when he demanded his chance to see Jesus, just as we experience it today. Having moments of doubt, living with doubt, is a strength. For Peter, it galvanized his ministry. For Thomas, it made him ask important questions, such as what would he believe from now on? For us, doubt forces us to consider the role of God and the gospel in a modern world that often mocks faith and challenges the just cause. If we never ask: What do I really believe? Why do I believe it? – then how is that belief ever bolstered? It must be strong enough to run up against doubt, and yet remain. Believing without seeing does not make us free of doubt. We are not blind adherents to a leader who makes all the decisions for us. We are followers of a faith, a way of living, that requires consideration and intention on our parts. We can doubt like Thomas and believe at the same time; we can live in uncertainty, and yet feel certain. The gospel exists in a real world, one that is never fully knowable. To doubt, to ponder, to wonder, those are the pillars of faith. To be humble enough to know that we do not know everything; to saviour that which is mysterious; to seek the divine in the midst of uncertainty. Amen.
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