Since the recession hit, many of us have become more aware of our financial system than we were before. Financial problems that seemed small before don’t seem so small anymore. This is especially true of those who are in debt.
However, would you believe that mankind is slipping deeper into another form of debt—one having nothing to do with finances? Would you believe that this debt is about to overwhelm us? Would you believe that we are about to pay for a debt of ignorance?
Before we tackle the details, we must first figure out what ignorance is. When people hear the word ignorance, there are many ideas that come to mind. Some think of stupidity. Others think of a lack of caring. Still others think that it’s just a fun word to use as an insult and don’t give much thought as to what it means.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, ignorance is either “a lack of experience or knowledge” or “the state of being uninformed.” Therefore, we are ignorant from birth. It is only as we go through life and learn about the world around us that we overcome that ignorance. Yet there are some things we remain ignorant about. Most of us don’t know a single thing about supernovas. Is that bad? Will it cause problems in your future? Unless you are an astronomer, no, your ignorance in this area will not affect your life very much. It does not make you a bad person or a stupid person. It just means that you don’t know about that topic.
There are times, however, that ignorance is a very bad thing. Someone’s ignorance of a proper work ethic might cost him or her a job. Ignorance about fire safety could cost people their lives. Ignorance can be very bad sometimes. What is the worst type of ignorance?
The greatest ignorance
The greatest ignorance is when God’s laws are ignored. That is when ignorance has reached its worst point. That is when innocent ignorance transforms into sin. Ignorance by itself is not a sin, but ignorance of God and His laws quite often quickly results in sin.
All of mankind has sinned in ignorance. We’ve all done something that we didn’t realize was a sin until later. Maybe it was breaking the Sabbath or God’s food laws. It may have been coveting or not tithing. Whatever it was, we broke God’s law in our ignorance and therefore sinned, since sin is breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4).
Now some may argue that they are in the clear because they didn’t know any better. However, a crime is a crime, whether the person knew better or not. God Himself said that a sin in ignorance is still a sin, making provisions for if “a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord…” (Leviticus 4:2).
In Acts 3, the apostle Peter was preaching to a crowd in Jerusalem about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and repentance. He just finished telling them about Christ’s sacrifice and said, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (verse 17). We all are responsible for crucifying Christ because we all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Peter told them to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). They still had to repent of the sin, even though they did it in ignorance.
What knowledge is
A better way to understand ignorance, or the lack of knowledge, is probably to figure out what knowledge is. Webster’s defines knowledge as “information or awareness gained from study or experience.” Therefore, knowledge is basically what we learn due to research or our past. Yet, how do we receive this knowledge?
As God says in Deuteronomy 1:39, children have no knowledge of good and evil. They can’t study effectively because they’re just too young, and they are not yet old enough to have the experience that helps give person knowledge. As we grow up, however, we start compiling our life’s experiences and the lessons we learn from our studies and we increase in knowledge. The older we get, the more knowledge we are supposed to have.
The easiest way by far to receive knowledge is to study. If you want to be knowledgeable on lighting campfires, don’t go straight outside, light a match next to gas-soaked tree limbs and learn the hard way through experience. Ask your parents or look it up in a book or on the Internet. Do research. As the old adage goes, “Time’s a lousy teacher. It kills all of its pupils.”
The most important knowledge on the face of the earth is knowledge of God and His laws. This knowledge you don’t get by looking up facts in any old book, and experience can be a little too late in coming to do you much good. In order to have knowledge about God and His laws, you have to study the Bible. The best way to study the Bible is to do it daily, like the Bereans did (Acts 17:10-11).
Reasons for ignorance
There are many reasons people are ignorant:
To have the veil of ignorance removed, you must be called by God (John 6:44). In Isaiah 44:18, it says that God shuts the people’s eyes and hearts so that they cannot see or understand. He won’t hold them fully accountable until He determines the time is right to call them. God has a wonderful plan, and in His plan He calls a small group called the firstfruits first, and then calls the rest of mankind to His wonderful knowledge later.
Some people are just too lazy to research God’s Word for themselves and therefore never gain any of its knowledge. While they do gain some knowledge from experience, it is usually too little, too late. This is why God tells us to be diligent in following Him.
In Proverbs 6:6-11, King Solomon shows how important diligence is. If you compare knowledge to spiritual food, then you can see that there is a very valid point. Solomon is saying that we must be like an ant, which works for its food, which seeks it out and finds it. Once the ant has that food, it never lets it go, but hoards it up and adds to it until such a time as it is necessaryfor the ant to use it.
3.Seeking our desires instead of God’s
We live in a very selfish world, and sometimes we put the physical things that our materialistic society treasures above God and His precious knowledge. Christ says that some give up the knowledge of God because they allow the cares of this world to choke it right out of them (Matthew 13:22). Since they are in such active pursuit of their own desires, they don’t have time or desire to pursue the knowledge that God could give them.
Examples of ignorance
The Bible provides us many examples of ignorance. In fact, all of history provides us many examples of ignorance. Here are three examples provided by the Bible.
Job is the first example. God helped Job see his ignorance when He said, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) The book of Job records a very hard time in Job’s life when he was crying in pain and accusing God of unfairness. During this time he made a few statements that, as God said, he made without knowledge—with ignorance—as to what they really meant and what he was really asking. In the end, Job says, “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). To repent, we first have to realize that there is a sin. Job’s trial removed his ignorance about his own sinful nature and human weakness compared to God’s unlimited power.
The second example is that of the ancient Israelites. God also accused them of ignorance in Jeremiah 4:22. Israel wasn’t always ignorant as a nation, but as generation after generation strayed farther and farther from God, they forgot about God’s laws. They gave up the knowledge of God and His ways for the world and its supposed privileges. This is why God always instructed the children of Israel to teach their children (Deuteronomy 11:19). God never wanted His people to be ignorant about Him and His ways. Israel gives us an example that we must never forget or allow ourselves to imitate.
The third example of ignorance is Paul, perhaps the most famous apostle in the New Testament. No one has contributed more books to God’s Word than Paul. Few, if any, equaled him in evangelical zeal for God and His way of life. Therefore, it is kind of hard to believe that he was ignorant, isn’t it? Yet this is true.
Paul admits that he had been ignorant in 1 Timothy 1:13. Some of the things he did in this ignorance were awful. He had killed faithful followers of Jesus, persecuted the Church and beaten the people called by the very God he was trying to worship. How bad can you get? Yet God had mercy and called him out of his ignorance, shaping him into one of the most zealous Christians the world has ever seen.
The results of ignorance
Ignorance can have many different results. Some examples of ignorance are very mild and not very harmful at all, resulting only in mild embarrassment. Others are very serious and very harmful, resulting in death in the worst cases. The results of remaining ignorant of God’s laws are on the worst end of this spectrum.
One of the results of ignorance is that we become sinners. A sinner is someone that repeatedly sins. If you don’t know about God’s laws, then how do you know not to go against them? Psalms 14:4 and 53:4 show that sinners often have the characteristic of being ignorant. Only by God’s merciful calling can anybody get out of this vicious cycle of ignorance/sin/ignorance/sin.
Another result is that we can be destroyed by our ignorance. This is shown in Hosea 4:6, when God mourns, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” God was lamenting because His people’s ignorance was destroying them, and they weren’t turning. Every time Israel turned from God due to their ignorance, they went onto a path of eventual destruction, just as we do when we are ignorant about His ways.
Hosea 4:6 also tells us another result of ignorance. God says through Hosea, “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me.” If we reject the knowledge of God, then God will reject us. Our sins, occasionally done in ignorance, will also cut us off from God (Isaiah 59:2). Paul also said that ignorance would cut us off from God (Ephesians 4:18).
The light at the end of the tunnel
It may seem that ignorance is a terrible thing that we cannot overcome. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. After God calls us and we learn of His ways, what do we do to further rid ourselves of ignorance? In Acts 17:30, we are told that “these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” God overlooked our previous times of ignorance, but now He demands that we repent of that ignorance and the sins we committed during that time.
Repentance is a change of the heart and the mind out of godly sorrow. How are we supposed to change from our ignorant state?
We should be changing from ignorance to wisdom, one of the greatest gifts of God. Yet the transition from one to the other isn’t an overnight process, but one lasting a lifetime. We go first from ignorance to knowledge, from knowledge to understanding and finally from understanding to wisdom.
We should realize that there is a difference between knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Knowledge is what you know; it’s what you have in your head. Understanding is the deeper level of seeing how the knowledge fits together and how it can be used. Spiritual understanding means understanding the things of God. Wisdom is the ability to make sound judgments; to take that knowledge and understanding and apply it.
We must now stay knowledgeable in the ways of God through prayer, Bible study and meditation. The debt of ignorance is piling up, so we must do our part to stop it and quit adding our own additions to the worldwide debt of ignorance.
Read more about the antidote to ignorance in the United News article, “GOT Wisdom?”