Easter 2, B
There’s an extraordinarily popular psychological instrument based on the work of Carl Jung called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. It’s used heavily in a variety of circumstances – from human resource decisions to team building to career advice to counseling. Through a series of questions, the test determines which of 16 personality types the testee best fits. Within each of 4 categories, the person is assigned to one of two polar characteristics.
Energy source: Do you recharge from contact with others or from time alone? This parameter is Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
Information: Do you tend to focus on the basic information you take in – Sensing (S) – or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning Intuition (N)?
Decisions: Do you prioritize logic and consistency in decision making – Thinking (T) – or concentrate on the people and special circumstances – Feeling (F)?
Structure: Do you prefer to get things firmly decided – Judging (J) – or to stay open to new information and options – Perceiving (P)?
2.5 million Americans per year take the test – 89 of the US Fortune 100 companies use it in some capacity for their employees or potential recruits. There is considerable controversy about the test’s validity regarding hiring, firing and promoting decisions, but the practical uses of the instrument have proven ever so much broader.
It turns out, you can use the Myers-Briggs (or a reasonable facsimile) to answer the truly critical questions of life. The test can actually determine which Disney Princess you would be – if you were a Disney princess. Not your cup of tea? It will tell you “your” animal, or what dessert best matches your personality. It tells you how you love, who you love, even what you most likely want for Christmas (in case you otherwise wouldn’t know, I guess – or perhaps you thought you knew, but it turns out you were wrong). There’s even a variant that tells you which saint you most resemble.
Today we’re talking about Thomas. Known through all of history as Doubting Thomas. We say (and by “we” I mean the collective judges of history, sitting comfortably here, gazing back with our 20/20 hindsight vision), we say doubting with a certain tone of dismissal, as if doubting was somehow a bad thing. I don’t believe that – I tend to share renowned preacher Frederick Buechner’s contention that “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” But that is a sermon for another day.
The thing I want to mention today, the thing that strikes me about Thomas, is that he is not so much a doubter, as he is an ESTP.
The ESTP personality, in brief, is described thus: They take a pragmatic approach focused on immediate results. Theories and conceptual explanations bore them – they want to act energetically to solve the problem. They focus on the here-and-now, are spontaneous. They learn best through doing.
We first meet Thomas when Lazarus lays dying. Jesus won’t go, won’t go, won’t go – then He says ok, let’s go. The other disciples point out the unpleasant reality that there are people trying to kill Jesus in that district – and by extension happy enough to kill anyone traveling with Him. Jesus proves persistent and Thomas spontaneously proposes the practical solution, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16).
Thomas demonstrates his preference for practical reality over abstract albeit poetic theory in John 14:5. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’” Ever the practical realist, Thomas replies, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
As Christians in this post-modern world we live in an interesting dichotomy. Our cultural concept of reality is governed by skepticism and facts and science and proofs. Yet, we hold to a faith not subject to proofs. Within that milieu, as theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes, “Christians are often tempted to say more than we know. We are so tempted because we fear we do not believe what we say we believe. So we try to assure ourselves that we believe what we say we believe by convincing those who do not believe that they really believe what we believe once what we believe is properly explained.”
I am not necessarily a realist (we won’t get into my 4 initial personality type), but I function for the most part subject to a worldview governed by limitations – limitations of science, of economy, of scarcity, of human failing – and am tempted daily to call those limitations “reality”.
Into that world walks Thomas – just over a week after reality hit the disciples with the blunt, brutal finality of death itself. Jesus, vividly, blessedly, beautifully alive comes to him. His words are peaceful; His wounds are bared; His mangled hands are outstretched, open – welcoming Thomas as he is, open to Thomas’s disbelief, his need to experience…
Jesus comes to Thomas – not to change him. Thomas remains committed to acting promptly and courageously on what he perceives. What changes is Thomas’s perception of reality itself. Of what is possible. Of what God can do. Even of what God can do through him. Jesus confronts him [Thomas] with the possibility that his reality was too small, his vision of “possible” too limited. When Jesus calls him to faith, He’s actually inviting him to enter into a whole new world. (Paraphrased from David Lose, In the Meantime)
We are Easter people – invited by the risen Lord to look at the world, interact with the world from the perspective of the Resurrection. Jesus’s resurrection. Our own resurrection – resurrected from a limited reality to a world (as David Lose describes) not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation. We can hide in the reality bounded in limitations we have set for ourselves – or we can live into the invitation Christ offers. Live our doubts, live our questions, live our faith, live His love, live abundantly in Him.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!