Ignorance isn’t bliss.
When people use the phrase “ignorance is bliss” there’s an implication that life is simpler or better when we don’t know everything, but the truth is ignorance isn’t bliss. Instead ignorance often leads to tragedy. Emma and I were talking about the recent terrorist attacks that have plagued the world; the suicide bombings and attacks in public places, most especially the recent suicide bombing at the airport in Turkey. She asked me why anyone would do that and I told her because they believe God told them to. She said, “God wouldn’t tell them to do that.” And I said, “I know, but they really believe he did. Most of these people are blindly following what their leaders tell them. They don’t read in depth what the Qur’an actually says and instead they are interpreting it in their own way. So they think this is what God wants. But Christians have done that, too. There are Christians out there who have killed people because they thought God wanted them to do it. There are even stories in the Bible about it. That’s why we have to always be alert to what God is really telling us to see if it matches up with what we know about God.”
Something I heard has been haunting me.
I was listening to a sermon about the evidence of the truth of Christianity and if I’m remembering correctly, the pastor said that we know the early accounts of Jesus’ life and death are correct because people wouldn’t allow themselves to die for a lie. That when they told them to just recant their beliefs and they would be spared, they didn’t. His argument was that most of us would. If it meant saving our lives and getting to live another day with our families, that we would simply recant our beliefs but that these early disciples were so committed they would rather die. But that isn’t true at all. People die all the time for a lie. It’s just that they don’t know it is. People who commit suicide bombings are doing it because they think of themselves as martyrs, of people dying for a cause they firmly believe in as the early apostles did. They are as convinced about the rightness of what they are doing as those who died in the name of Jesus Christ. I think it’s hard for us to imagine it that way, that people might die for a lie, because then it forces us to examine our own actions and our own beliefs. But that isn’t a bad thing. And it’s something we should do more of. This morning if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please turn to the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. We’ll be reading from the very first chapter and the first seven verses of that chapter. Proverbs 1:1-7.
The problem is we often know just enough to be dangerous.
It’s like that other saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” How very true that is. Our lives are filled with beliefs that aren’t true. We “hear” things that sound right to us and we blindly accept them as truth without ever investigating it. I could bring up a hundred examples with just the smallest of searches on the Internet (and don’t get me started about the factual reliability of the Internet), but one from my own history will suffice. When I was a little boy, we’d go and visit my grandparents and anytime I picked up a fork, a pencil, or a pen, anytime I picked up anything with my left hand or carried it around in my left hand, my grandmother would take it from my left hand and put it in my right. She grew up believing being left-handed was a bad thing. Now, I don’t know if she thought it was bad simply because it made life harder and she was trying to save me from suffering, or if she thought it was bad because evil spirits would inhabit my body and take control of me, but she would try to change me by moving stuff from my left hand to my right. My mom had to keep telling her that it was alright, that it was natural for me to be left-handed, but sometimes I wonder if I’m ambidextrous because my grandmother was always trying to get me to use my right hand.
Did you know that the word for “right” in Latin is “dexter?”
As in “dexterity” or “ambidextrous.” Usually it means someone who is versatile, limber, or skilled. All good things. You know what the Latin word for “left” is? “Sinister.” I don’t think I even have to explain that one. Do you know why people wear wedding rings on their left hands? To fend off evil. You know why we throw salt over our left shoulder? To fend off evil. It took until the 20th century to understand that being left-handed did not mean that you were wrong, evil, or sinister. Now, of course, we know that it means we are more creative and intelligent than you poor right-handed people. But seriously, isn’t it interesting how a belief becomes fact becomes a way of life without any real substance behind it? Perhaps instead we should listen to the words of Solomon who wrote this introduction to the book of Proverbs.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Solomon is big on wisdom.
Some say he was the wisest man in the Bible and certainly God gifted him with it. But listen to these words and really hear what he is saying. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Solomon wrote these verses to give us wisdom, instruction, and understanding; to help us in doing what is right; to help guide our children; to add to our learning and to help in discernment; to better understand proverbs and parables we may not otherwise understand. But he warns “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” When I read this, I feel like Solomon is warning us about the dangers of ignorance. He’s challenging us to always seek out wisdom, to discern the truth for ourselves, and to not be satisfied with what we know. Wisdom helps us to be fair and just, to be prudent, to be discerning, and understanding. But when we reject the wisdom and instruction of others, we show ourselves to be foolish – sometimes with harmful consequences.
Ignorance is one of our greatest enemies. We are so quick to accept what we want to believe instead of searching for what is true. We should never be satisfied with what we know. We should always strive to increase our knowledge. By doing so, we draw closer to God because we have a deeper understanding of the world in which we live and which God created. We find out new things all the time. Just think of the volumes of ideas in your lifetime alone which have changed. Think of the number of things that were said to be impossible but now are commonplace. And when you think of those things, imagine how much we didn’t yet know. When we are challenged with new thoughts and new ideas, it isn’t enough to say “that’s how it’s always been.” For one, it’s probably not true. For another, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Remember our talk the first month I was here? The seven last words of a church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.” We’ve never done it that way before. Before we dismiss something out of hand, we should spend time searching ourselves first to see if our own prejudices and preconceptions are hindering our ability to see things correctly. And then we should pray.
Because the other part of Solomon’s advice has to do with God.
The fear of God is the BEGINNING of wisdom. In this case, “fear” means “reverence.” It doesn’t mean we should be afraid of God. This is the kind of true awe that you might have standing in the presence of someone great. Imagine meeting someone who is the very best in something you love. If it was basketball, that might be Michael Jordan; or hockey, Wayne Gretsky; or cello, Yo-Yo Ma. For me, it might be Scarlett Johansson or maybe Harrison Ford. When I got to ask him a question at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press conference, I couldn’t help but call him “Mr. Ford.” Usually when I interview someone, I refer to them by their first name, but I had so much respect for the man and his work and the fact that he starred in perhaps one of the greatest movies ever made, I couldn’t help it. Some people just command that kind of respect. Now imagine that on a universal level and that’s what Solomon means when he writes that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” When we realize that God is the creator of all things, it changes our perception. It changes how we look at things. And it opens up our eyes to the truth that God is constantly trying to reveal to us. But it all starts with God.
Now I know not everyone reading this will believe in God.
Or maybe if you’re reading this you have doubts about God or about your faith in him. That’s okay. That obviously doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does believing in God automatically open your eyes to your own ignorance. There are millions of people out in the world who call themselves Christians who fail to see God in the proper light. As Isaiah said (Isaiah 29:13), “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” But I’ll tell you this. Take the God challenge. If you are having doubts or you don’t believe, but you’re willing to take the chance, put God first. Start trying to look at life as if God were in charge, as if there was something greater than ourselves who loves not only you but everyone in the entire world. Think about Jesus as being a person so filled with love for you that he gave his life for you and see if that doesn’t open your world to new ways of thinking. And if you do call yourselves a believer, then spend time in prayer and ask God to show you the parts of yourself that need work, because we all have them.
All of these thoughts came about because of a story I remembered the other day.
At one of my churches, an elderly gentleman and I were talking about the Bible and he told me that he was too old to learn anything new from it. I was disappointed he ever thought that. This was a man who was truly in tune with God in so many ways. He was wise and he was generous. Perhaps he didn’t mean it the way it came out because he certainly had a Godly spirit, but I hope none of us ever think the journey of knowledge is over for whatever reason. Challenge yourselves everyday. Work to make yourself a better person. And never for a second believe God is done with you in any way. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.