God’s greatest encouragements often come from surprise turns of mind that confound our natural thinking. I was walking through the CBD last week reflecting on how today we are inundated with “experts” on the human condition.
Whether it be psychologists, neuroscientists, business and marketing analysts, media commentators, sociologists etc. the contemporary world is dominated by specialists telling us what we need to know about ourselves.
This feature of mainstream culture has sadly become part of the character of the Western Church; a host of church growth and health consultants, multitudes of prayer ministries or a mass of Christian counselling methods, let alone the usual indoctrinations of pastors and professional ministries who will tell you all you need to know about God and his Church.
To admit this is to confess personal ignorance; something which the Lord values very highly.
Temptations of a Professional Christian
My “career”, a word I deeply dislike, has always been in the knowledge industry. As a school teacher, church pastor, theology lecturer and spiritual director the working assumption is that I know something others don’t know. The temptation to make this a part of my self-worth is very strong for in a fallen world what we know and who we think we are have become intimately related. This was one of the great costs of eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17).
Unwittingly the Church rewards the possession of knowledge in a way that robs us of the glorious presence of God. Savvy church culture makes it easy to forget how totally ignorant we were of the ways of God when we first came to Christ, but how powerfully the Lord answered our prayers and poured out his Spirit (Gal 3:1-5). We forget that Jesus did not choose “influential” people to lead his movement to change the world.
Paul puts it plainly; “consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…. so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”(1 Cor 1:26-27, 29).
When Christ reprimands the Ephesian church, ““remember the height from which you have fallen”” he is not recalling them to status and success but the simplicity of a first love (Rev 2:4-5). That ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”” is well known amongst us but in practice unintentionally transgressed (James 4:6). We need a fresh revelation of the importance of bring ignorant in the presence of God.
Mercy to the Ignorant
At the climax of the book of Jonah God speaks to the rebellious prophet; “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”” (Jon 4:11). The Lord unflatteringly ranks the spiritual and moral discernment of the Ninevites with that of dumb beasts, BUT this makes them candidates for mercy.
If ever there was an afflicted man surrounded by “experts” on the ways of God it was Job, who himself had plenty to say about the Lord. Only when God appeared speaking of himself as the opponent of proud men who find fault with the Almighty did Job became truly wise repenting in dust and ashes (Job 40:1-2, 11; 42:1-6). That the self-confessed ignorant can obtain mercy with God is likewise a powerful New Testament hope.
Amazingly, Peter says to the Jerusalemites who had a hand in crucifying Jesus, ““And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”” and promises those now enlightened refreshment and restoration if they turn to Christ (Acts 3:17-21). Once Peter himself was arrogant about his knowledge of the ways of God but his failure to follow Jesus to the cross had softened his heart towards the ignorant (Matt 16:22).
Paul is even blunter in speaking about God’s grace to the ignorant; “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 1:13-14). All this is encouraging to us spiritual dullards, but to understand the true power of ignorance we must examine the life of the Son of God.
The Ignorance of Jesus
Hebrews informs us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin…every high priest…can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness….” (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:2).
In what sense can Christ personally identify with our ignorance’s?
Jesus cry from the cross, ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” is the ultimate confession of human ignorance (Mark 15:34).
In bearing our sin he who knew himself to be the Son of God has lost all knowledge of the Father (2 Cor 5:21). Christ’s ignorance of his sonship pays the price for our prideful confidence concerning the ways of God with man and pre-eminently qualifies him to be the one who shows mercy to the ignorant. Those who ignore Jesus’ ignorance for them will always fail to come to him as ignorant people needing mercy.
In the re-confession of her ignorance lies the Western Church’s hope of restoration.
The Church as we know it has become skilled in professing its knowledge of God. Books, seminars, courses and programmes abound without number.
Multitudes work hard at raising their spiritual, or ecclesiastical, Key Performance Indicators.
This is not how we first came to Jesus for “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom 9:16). Ignorance is not an attribute or skill you can work at but a weakness to be confessed in the presence of God. This is great news of rest for all who have been labouring under the burden of Christian expertise (Matt 11:25-30).
The Christian consultancy industry might see this counsel of ignorance as a recipe for laziness and cheap grace. And it would be if we took our eyes off the centrality of the ignorance of Jesus himself. Our self-confessed cries to God as ignorant people pleading for cleansing and refreshment do not earn us some sort of merit through our dullness.
Rather we are heard when we confess ignorance in the name of Jesus because we share in the ignorance of Jesus’ cry on the cross, a cry that issued in resurrection power (Mark 15:34; Acts 4:12; Heb 5:7-8).
The message of mercy for the ignorant is great news for activist Western Christians who have searched again and again for some key to spiritual revival and restoration.
By our labours for understanding we have spawned a huge Christian knowledge industry and kept the people of God under bondage to “experts”.
In the mercy of God may we realise that it is what we don’t know that can lead us back to those green pastures of grace alone we first experienced when we came to the Lord.