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Monday, November 30, 2009

The Weight of Knowing

I've missed being able to write on here, and I can see by my Google analytics page that some of you have been missing me. I'm encouraged by that, by the way. As an author, I really need readers, and I don't just mean to boost my own ego. Without you, I'm out of business.

So I'm pouncing on this brief break in my busy holiday schedule (now that I'm not on the road, miles from an internet connection) to share something that has been on my mind for quite some time. But first, an illustration from my own life...

Ignorance Isn't Bliss, It's Just Ignorant

Call it one of the darkest days in the history of my school career, if you like. It wasn't funny at the time, but now, feel free to laugh.

It was Saturday evening, and my final for that class was scheduled for Monday morning. A huge term paper I'd been working on for 4 weeks (about 40% of my total class grade) was due at the final, the library had just closed, I had nothing more than a mostly unread pile of sources and a thesis, and suddenly my pile of sources were spelling out my doom. The paper, my class grade, and even my academic standing and GPA crumbled like dust before my eyes.

Why? I had built it all on a basic ignorance of history. I had proposed to analyze the effects of British colonization on Japanese literature, but suddenly I was confronted with the incontestable fact that Britain had never conquered Japan!

Okay, I heard that snore.

Let me rush on to the point. Either I had to press on with the paper as it was, basically a lie, and try to bamboozle my professor; or I had to invent a new topic, redo 4 weeks of research, and write a paper, all in the following afternoon after the library re-opened at 12 p.m. It didn't seem possible.

I cried, I begged God to prove my sources wrong, I called my mom (poor Mom!), I rued the moment my blissful ignorance had been stripped away, and then God told me to snap out of it and get to work, because feigning ignorance at that point was not a Christian option.

All That to Say...

I realized that night some basic points that scripture and experience bear out to be true:
  1. Ignorance may feel like bliss for the ignorant ones, but for everyone who knows the facts, their ignorance just makes them look like idiots, or worse, liars. You may be fooling some, but you can be sure there is someone out there to tell you that the emperor has no clothes (to reference the fairytale).
  2. It is no excuse at all to claim innocence due to ignorance when you have the capacity and opportunity to find out the real facts. If the truth was in plain sight, there was no ignorance. In that case, there are very few innocently ignorant people in the world, and none who can claim ignorance of God and His nature. The Bible says,
    "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1: 18-20 NIV).
  3. Every individual is held accountable for what he knows, and for what he has chosen not to know. In society, for instance, a doctor better know his or her medicine, because claiming "I didn't know that" is no protection from a lawsuit. In the same way, it just won't work to claim to God, "I had years to learn, I had friends who tried to tell me better, and yet I still didn't know."
  4. Knowing something is bad, harmful, or wrong and then doing it anyway, hoping that others around you don't share your knowledge, is a grave sin in God's eyes. It's lying. There is no relative morality, only God's standards, so don't waste time proving something right with public consensus.

And so I was confronted that night with the realization that knowledge has weight (don't ask me if it's ounces or pounds!) in that it bears with it a certain amount of accountability and responsibility. I knew I couldn't lie to my professor because I wanted to please God, and also I knew that my grade wouldn't be anything to be proud of if I earned it through lying. I knew that, impossible or not, I had to try to write the paper using honest facts, not fabrications.

Christianity, like my term paper, presents us with incontestable facts that sometimes undermine everything we want and everything we have believed up to that time. If we want to go on calling ourselves Christians, though, we have to get busy realigning our lives to fit the truth. We can't claim ignorance and say that we didn't know that God was displeased with our lives the way we wanted them. We can't pretend that God loves something that we know He hates. In that case, our Christian life is as fake and unsatisfying as a grade gotten under false pretenses.

The Painful Part

Thirty-six hours later, I hadn't had a wink of sleep, but I'd rewritten my thesis to better fit my topic (I hadn't thrown the whole project out!), I had grabbed a couple of new sources from the library that miraculously meshed with many of the ones I already had, and somehow I'd produced one of the best papers I'd ever written. (Seriously. My professor told me later that he'd taken that paper around the department and let all the other professors on the floor read it!).

God blessed me that weekend for facing up and telling the truth, even though it caused me tremendous pain. I had to confess that I was wrong and that I had taken three World History classes but somehow missed this giant detail (major blows to my academic pride). I also had to stay awake and type nonstop for about 18 hours, with only three ten-minute breaks, which meant that I felt awful.

That's my pain. Now for yours. Oh, c'mon, now. You didn't think I wrote all of this out just because I wanted a sympathetic audience, did you?

This is a challenge to grow, even though some of you might hate me for going here. Because I care about you, I'll do it anyway.

Has there ever been a moment in your life when you suddenly learned, or at least suspected, that God didn't approve? Did you go to God to find out for sure what He thought, or did you say to yourself, "Ignorance is bliss. What I don't know can't hurt me."

If you thought the latter, today I'm telling you that God holds you responsible for what you know, and for what you chose not to know. Either way, the whole weight of responsibility is resting on your shoulders. Shouldn't you go to God right now and let Him bless you for facing up to the truth and straightening out this problem?
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1: 5-9 NIV).


Anonymous said...

Great word! Now is the time to come clean, not when we stand before Him to give account. "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open" (Luke 8:17). He already knows our sin, and because He loves us in spite of it we should never hesitate to confess it to Him.