Friday, March 09, 2007

Un-blissful Ignorance

When I hear the question, “Does it matter what I believe?” I also hear in another question in the background, “does it matter what I don’t believe?”

You’ve heard the old saying, “ignorance is bliss,” and the other saying liked unto it is, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” What do you think? Is this true? I wish it were true. Speaking from childhood experience, I could not begin to tell you how much it hurt when I crashed into that curb while riding my bike—I did not know I was going to crash, nor did I know how I was going to crash nor did I know how much skin would come off my arm and my leg--how I wished the axiom would have held true that day! I did not know how much I would bleed and I certainly did not know what it would feel like to walk all the way home. Believe me when I say, “what I did not know DID hurt me!”

When it comes down to what we believe, will God hold us accountable for what are not motivated to learn, especially in matters concerning Him?

A few nights ago I was sitting on a bench with “Tommy”, who worked as a grounds-keeper at the University of South Carolina. I had asked him if anyone had ever asked him or said something like, “God has a wonderful plan for his life” as I was interested to find out what those words meant to him. He told me that he felt this meant that he had to work to help others (volunteer alot) and that he was doing a fairly good job at fulfilling God’s purpose for his life, that God’s plan was being accomplished.

He was thankful that God was real, for his health, family and job but he really felt like he needed more peace that love, joy or hope right now. As a child, he felt that God was some kind of higher power, but was certainly a mysterious worker who is all forgiving and loving. “Tommy” even mentioned his spiritual goals were to get closer to God, follow Jesus and make some important changes in his life.

I asked him “what kind of changes?” He confessed he had an unclean mouth and needed to work on his language, but everything else was cool. Did he consider himself to be a “Good Person?” For the most part.

Does he keep the 10 Commandments? Let me simply say, the bottom fell out. He confessed quickly of known sins—he knew he had broken God’s moral law.

I talked to him about the coming Day of Judgment and God would hold him accountable for his sin, specifically that he would receive his wages for sin. Was he ready to receive that? Did he know if he was going to heaven or hell?

He was going to heaven. Do you know why? Because though he knew he was a sinner, the less he felt he knew about what God was going to do, the better chance he had at getting off easy and getting a light judgment—God is forgiving and loving, right? He was going to work harder at getting to know God and he would get his “stuff” straight and everything would work out . . .

Wow. Is ignorance really bliss? He completely left out Jesus! Does that matter?

I was led to remember another conversation on a road long ago. There were these two guys walking along this seven-mile stretch from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and while they were walking, they were talking about the latest news: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. While they were walking, Jesus Himself joined them (they were prevented from recognizing Him) and asked what they were talking about. They froze. One of the guys, Cleopas, says, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”

Jesus says, “What things?”

So Cleopas and his friend sadly recount everything to their new traveling companion: Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, was delivered to death by the chief priests and rulers and was crucified. They spoke of how they had hoped that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and three days came and went. “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.” They described how some went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but they did not see Him.

"And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures". (Luke 24:13-27).

Jesus does not consider ignorance to be bliss and is very much concerned that what you don’t know can in fact hurt you—especially where it concerns Him! Does it matter what I believe about Jesus? To Jesus, He matters.

Look at Jesus’ attitude toward these guys: He first calls them ignorant and slow of heart to believe. I don’t think this was spoken lightly, but it was certainly spoken lovingly. They were on an emotional rollercoaster: disappointed, confused, sad, curious, bewildered, frustrated, embarrassed, yet they were met with compassion. Now consider what Jesus does, starting here on the road to Emmaus through the end of the Gospel of Luke: “He not only appeared to them, but spoke to them. He not only appeared to them, but taught them, and in particular gave them a commission in which the meaning of His own life and work, and their calling as connected with it, are finally declared.”[i] Jesus is careful to make certain He is clearly understood, so it is our responsibility to get Him right.

Matthew Henry explains that Jesus called them fools not out of reproach (“you idiots!”) but to show where they were weak, ignorant. And He was not about to let them take another step without receiving an education. “He might call them fools, for he knows our foolishness, the foolishness that is bound in our hearts. Those are fools that act against their own interest; so they did who would not admit the evidence given them that their Master was risen, but put away the comfort of it.”[ii]

I sat on the park bench with “Tommy” and explained Christ to him: how God Himself took on flesh and dwelt among us in order that He might take away the sin of the world. I showed him in the court room how he was going to stand before the Almighty Judge, guilty of his crimes, fully deserving punishment that justice demands when it runs it’s course. I spoke to him of Jesus, who had set aside all things glorious, given up everything He had to offer him the chance to walk out of the courtroom free from the guilt and sentence of his sins, away from the wrath of the divine judge . . . and he would not accept the free gift. He just wanted to get to know the judge. He was foolish and slow of heart to believe. He would not believe Christ and he would not believe the Bible—he turned from the gospel to depend on his works.

The two on the road to Emmaus would not believe the Bible. They totally missed what was written in the scriptures concerning Jesus—they did not recognize Him on the road, nor on the page.

Have you ever looked up the word “seminary?” The root word is from the Latin root for “seed.” The primary definition is, “an environment in which something originates and from which it is propagated.”[iii] How appropriate then that these two travelers are given the best seminary education concerning Christ, where Jesus Himself takes them all the way back to the beginning and explains Himself, correcting their understanding of Him through the first five books and the psalter and the prophetic writings. He showed them His identity and the necessity for Him to suffer and die and be raised again and how He is glorified. And why does He do this? A friend recently shared an article with me in which R.C Sproul writes, “God reveals Himself to us in a book. That book is written in words. It communicates concepts that must be understood by the mind. Certainly mysteries remain. But the purpose of God's revelation is that we understand it with our minds that it might penetrate our hearts. To despise the study of theology is to despise learning the Word of God.”[iv] We will visit this again, Lord willing.

Jesus was taking those men to the cross and the tomb, where the work of God was finished in the Lord Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers reminds us how the cross is the gateway to His life. “His resurrection means that He has the power to convey His life to me. When I am born again from above, I receive from the Risen Lord His very life!”[v] Jesus was not satisfied to leave them in their ignorance, but desiring they grow in the grace and knowledge of Him! Their relationship with Him depended on it! They knew about His life, death and resurrection, but Jesus had to get to the meaning and eliminate ignorance.

At the beginning I asked, “When it comes down to what we believe, will God hold us accountable for what are not motivated to learn, especially in matters concerning Him?” The answer is “yes.” The reason is rooted in the very existence of God Himself: He is, therefore we must know. Motivations to not learn are selfish and idolatrous.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

************

[i] Denney, James. The Death of Christ. Great Britain: Paternoster, 1997.
[ii]Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991), Lk 24:13.
[iii]Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary., Includes Index., 10th ed. (Springfield, Mass., U.S.A.: Merriam-Webster, 1996, c1993).
[iv] R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1996, c1992).
[v] Chambers, Oswald. “His Resurrection Destiny.” My Utmost for His Highest. April 8.

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