Sunday, April 01, 2018
Knowing Your Ignorance
Some people think I know a lot. Perhaps I do in some comparative sense, but in an absolute sense, I am an ignoramus. I am only too aware of the vast gaps in my knowledge, even in the areas in which I am supposed to be an expert. We are all condemned to ignorance by the mere fact of our finitude. If you read a book a week for eighty years, you would read a little over four thousand books. If you read a book a day for those same eighty years, you would read about 29,000 books. Most people don’t come close to the first number, let alone the second. But even if someone managed to read 29,000 books in their lifetime, it would still be a minute fraction of the number of books in print. According to Wikipedia, about 300,000 books (new books and re-editions) were published in the US (in English) in 2013. If only half of those were new books, there were still over 150,000 new books published in that year alone. It is simply impossible for someone to keep up with the flood of information available to us. Granted, not all of these books are useful or significant, but the number that are useful and significant, even in a limited area such as Old Testament studies, is far beyond the capability of any one person to keep track of, let alone master. These facts, however, should not deter us from seeking to increase our knowledge, particularly in the things of God.
As I read discussions and comments on Facebook, it quickly becomes apparent that most of us pretend to a level of knowledge that we simply don’t have. This pretense stems from pride and arrogance, and a desire to win whatever argument we have entered into, which itself speaks of pride. Ministers in particular seem to be guilty of this, though that may be no more than my observation based on the self-selection of my friends on Facebook. Or perhaps it is due to the fact that ministers are supposed to be knowledgeable about the Bible and theology. But ministers of the gospel are supposed to be concerned about the truth. It is not helpful to the cause of truth when we pontificate out of our ignorance, rather than comment carefully out of our knowledge. This applies to all of life, and not just to the limited sphere of social media.
It is often more helpful for a minister to say, “I don’t know, but if you need me to I will find out.” This admission accomplishes three things. First, it rebukes us for our pride. Second, it strengthens our humility. Third, it drives us to a more diligent study of those things that we, as ministers of the gospel, ought to know. These are all good things in themselves. Further, it serves to encourage those in our churches to remember that their ministers are not infallible, and to pray for us in the burden that we bear to hold forth the truth in righteousness.
May we resolve to be more humble about our knowledge, to be more self-aware regarding our ignorance, and to strive for a more thorough knowledge of the truths of which God has made us stewards.