Willful Ignorance

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Deuteronomy 9:13-21, Hebrews 3:12-19, John 2:23-3:15


In legal terms, “willful ignorance” describes an intention to remain unaware of facts to avoid prosecution for them (like not asking a friend why he suddenly has a Rolex to sell you). The term has expanded into more general use to describe anyone who refuses to learn something because they want to remain comfortable or blameless. As a defense it doesn’t hold up well in court, and as a choice it isn’t morally defensible.

When Jesus tried to explain being “born again” to the Pharisee Nicodemus, Nick kept claiming not to understand. Eventually Jesus grew exasperated and said: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?  Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” It wasn’t a lack of testimony that vexed Jesus: it was a listener’s refusal to receive it.

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul reminded them how their ancestors abandoned the God who led them out of Egypt and made an idol of a golden calf. When Moses didn’t return quickly enough for them from meeting the Lord on Mount Sinai, the people justified their actions by saying: “this Moses […], we do not know what has become of him.” Not “let us learn more” but “let us do what we already wanted to.” It only cost them forty years.

We practice willful ignorance when we stereotype. When we dismiss solid science. When we make excuses for unethical acts of a politician we happen to favor. Many harmful environmental and economic choices are made with willful ignorance so we can enjoy the present without being accountable for the future. We are susceptible whenever we don’t want to surrender the worldview we prefer.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If we aren’t willing to make friends with the truth, what kind of friend could Jesus have in us? God and faith survive facts, even unpleasant ones. If we’re going to be convicted of something, let it be the truth.

Comfort: Facts are not the enemy of faith.

Challenge: If you don’t like the facts, it’s not the facts that have to change.

Prayer: God of Truth, open my eyes. Amen.

Discussion: What facts do you have trouble accepting?

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