Monday, July 2, 2012

Hey! What Do I Know?

One of the most liberating statements in the New Testament is Paul the apostle’s declaration, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” It is liberating because, in it, he is implying, “I don’t know if my belief is right; I only know that I believe it. (That, by the way, is all that Jesus required of those who wish to be in his kingdom – “Whoever believes in me shall have everlasting life.”)

It is difficult at best – almost impossible most of the time – to have a good, rational discussion with a person who is possessed of irrefutable facts. Even the tone of their voice informs you that there is no need to express any alternative position; all alternatives have already been relegated to their ash heap of ignorance or irrelevancy.

You may find comfort in my admission that I know almost nothing. And I’m most comfortable when I’m in conversation with those who share my state of ignorance without embarrassment or regret. (There is a new book out, come to think of it, entitled: Ignorance and How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein – I’ve been intending to get a copy.)

Ignorance – acknowledged ignorance – has two beneficial effects upon ones character: 1) it promotes humility by putting its owner at a level no higher, in his/her own estimation, than any of his/her fellow creatures and, 2) it promotes inquisitiveness by allowing its owner to doubt his/her assumptions enough to consider that there could be a way of seeing things other than that which has been his/her longtime habit.

Acknowledged ignorance also lifts a heavy burden from one’s shoulders. Once you have sworn allegiance to a fact, you become its defender for life, regardless of what crazy career that fact chooses to pursue. Ask the flat earth folks about that. Or the Mayan end-of-the-world folks. Or the six-day-creationist fundamentalists. If you join one of those crowds early in life you can have a long illustrious career as a debater of lost and meaningless causes and go to your grave with not one victory to show for your efforts. But if you say, “I don’t know about those things – God only knows. All I know is WHOM I have believed,” then you are a free person.

It is enough to spend ones energies defending ones right to his/her beliefs without having to prove the factual basis of those beliefs. There may, or may not be a factual basis for them. We will never know until and if all knowledge is revealed to us. We can only do our best to understand the world we live in, form our beliefs around those things that seem to us – through lived experience, conversation with wise people, and reference to disinterested, trustworthy sources – to have the greatest validity, and then entrust ourselves to them, all the while knowing that they may be mere vapors about to dissolve with the next puff of wind.

I’m comfortable in a world in which we walk by faith and not by sight. I’m comfortable with the idea that God is pleased, and can ONLY BE PLEASED by our faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God).” The first sin, we are told, was an attempt to KNOW and to become like gods. It is a sin that puts a heavy burden on its bearer. Jesus calls us with the words, “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He requires us not to believe in anything but Himself.

I have OPINIONS about nearly everything. Those who examine my blog know that. But I KNOW practically nothing. I’m hoping most of my opinions are good enough to get my shoes on the correct feet, and do the other essential tasks expected of me. Very likely they are. But I can never be sure. I can only KNOW what my opinions are and HOPE that I’ve based them on something resembling reality.

I can also hope that my evident ignorance makes me a comfortable, approachable conversationalist for others who are on the journey of faith that we call life. I DO KNOW whom I have believed – and I’m persuaded the He will keep his promises to me. That comes close to being ALL I know for sure.

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