In Praise of Ignorance (?)


Giotto - The Seven Virtues - Faith

“Faith” from The Seven Virtues, by Giotto.  Image via Wikipedia

I love a good quote.  This is good because it makes one think.

“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal. ”  “An Old Galician, as quoted by Czeslaw Milosz

In Christian missions, there is the temptation to know everything. After all, if we are attempting to show that someone is wrong and should change their mind, it seems counterproductive to admit ignorance. I have met people from other religions who absolutely refuse to say “I don’t know” or express any sort of doubt about anything. It has occurred to me how unappealing that attitude is. I would love to say that Christians I have met don’t do this… but it is not true.

As Christians we should be quick to say “I don’t know” to, frankly, many questions. There are a few reasons for this.

1.  It is intellectually honest. We are finite beings, in information, time, and space. To suggest otherwise is simply not true.

2.  It is appealing. To never admit ignorance or mistake is hubris… a sin. Titus 2:10 tells us to adorn the doctrine of God.  I Peter 3:15 suggests that our sharing the gospel should be done with humility and reverence. In other words, we cannot say that we have done our job in sharing the gospel simply by being accurate. Our attitude matters.

3.  It admits to the process. We are to study and to grow in knowledge and faith. To claim to know everything is to claim no room for growth and learning. I knew a person from Christian-based cult who claimed to fully understand everything in the Bible. Not much point to talk to someone who has already decided that she knows all there is to know. A friend of mine (more into apologetics than myself) pointed out to her some rather obvious misunderstandings she had with Scripture. Of course, nothing really happened. She knew everything so if she was wrong, she would already know it, correct?

4.  Doubt relates well with faith. If we think we know all things, we don’t leave a lot of room for faith. Faith is empowered by our recognition of our finiteness… our limitations. We are called to be followers of Christ, but why should we follow Him if we already know exactly what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go?  Embracing a bit of doubt opens us up to to embracing faith.

5.  It points to our role as a Witness for Christ. Our role in this world is primarily defined as witnesses. A witness describes what he has experienced and has personal knowledge of. A good witness tells “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” A good witness does not pretend to know more than he knows. In fact, when a witness does act as if he knows more than he really knows, it taints his whole testimony.

Willingness to admit there are things we don’t know, adds veracity to the statements about what we know. It is reminiscent of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. When questioned by authorities, he focused on his own personal knowledge and let the others draw their own conclusions.

You may not agree with these thoughts. That is okay. I could be wrong.

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