“Ignorance is bliss.”
“What I don’t know can’t hurt me.”
“If I don’t know it by now it must not be important.”
These statements and others like them are often used by individuals when they do not want to confront a particular topic or discussion. They will profess a desire for, and even joy in, their ignorance. They will proclaim it makes life simpler and keeps them from having so much about which to worry. But is ignorance something to be loved or relished? Should it be the desire of anyone to be ignorant?
The term “ignorance” is defined as “a lack of knowledge; unawareness of something important.” Therefore, when discussing ignorance, the intent is not to argue the necessity of knowing everything about every topic; nevertheless, it does require delving into whether or not it is acceptable for me to not know, or desire to find out, things of importance.
When individuals are ignorant, it falls into one of two categories: willful or unwitting. One who is unwittingly ignorant is not intentionally so, but is one who does not even know wherein their ignorance lies because they have never been confronted with the topic under consideration. One who is willfully ignorant knows they do not understand or are lacking knowledge in a certain area, but does not care to take the time and effort to find out the truth; or when the truth is presented and accessible before them, they close their ears so as to continue in their ignorance. This individual is not just one who is lacking knowledge, but is intellectually dishonest because he intentionally refuses knowledge at his fingertips. The one who is unwittingly ignorant will take advantage of the opportunities to increase knowledge and understanding wherever possible, the one who is willfully ignorant will look for ways to avoid any knowledge that would be dangerous to current beliefs or practices.
Consider the three statements at the beginning of this article; all of them are signs of one who is willfully ignorant. Ignorance is bliss. This statement is one of the most often used evidences of willful ignorance. The principle behind the statement is: the less I know, the happier I am. Generally, this attitude is taken toward matters of authority and responsibility. The individual feels that if he does not know what it is he is not supposed to do, he can live however he chooses, be happy while doing so and never be held responsible because he “did not know” what he was doing was wrong. This statement fails to take into account one vital factor: lack of knowledge does not negate responsibility. If I am caught breaking the laws of the land, my lack of knowledge about those laws does not in any way alleviate the illegality of my actions. I am still responsible for what I have done. The same holds true spiritually. The Scriptures often discuss sins committed in ignorance (Lev. 4; 1 Tim. 1:13). Ignorance may be bliss for the moment, but in the end ignorance always winds up causing pain and sorrow.
What I don’t know can’t hurt me. Very much akin to the previous statement, this form of willful ignorance cries out that it is safer to not know something than to know and be found responsible. Though many will use this form of burying their heads in the sand to try to absolve them of responsibility, this mentality only condemns one in the long run. It is common for us to hold politicians and leaders to a standard of, not just what they knew in a particular situation, but what they should have known. Many individuals in leadership positions have been sacked because of their ignorance in matters about which they should have been informed. The same holds true with mankind religiously. God has revealed himself and his will to man through his words and deeds (Rom. 1:20-21), but when man ignores God’s revelation, it does not mean he will not be held accountable to it (2 The. 1:7-9). Many of Paul’s statements to the churches are prefaced with a phrase similar to, “I would not have you to be ignorant,” because the things that were being presented were necessary for their understanding and salvation; ignorance of them would not make life easier; it would only make judgment worse.
If I don’t know it by now it must not be important. This brand of willful ignorance may not always be audibly presented but by action or reaction be readily portrayed. This statement of willful ignorance is used by the individual who is highly confident in his own knowledge, one who believes that he knows and has mastered all that he considers important. It is also used by the individual who has been around for many years and does not want to consider something he has not previously believed; nor does he want to be thought wrong or incorrect in his prior applications. Unfortunately, this is a form of ignorance that is often found, not just in the world, but in the church as well. It is submitted when individuals are confronted with biblical truths or applications they have not heard before and would be just as happy if they never heard again. It often rears its ugly head in discussions of dancing, modesty, societal issues, faithfulness, submission, biblical interpretations of passages that “everyone knows” mean something that they never said, and any discussion that goes against what mom and dad or one’s favorite preacher says. This form of ignorance is so dangerous because it states that the individual is willing to rely on personal knowledge and will reject anything that does not already fit into the category of something he/she wants to believe. Paul talked about such an attitude when he states concerning the Jews in Romans 10:3: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
Do you love ignorance? Are you willing to place your own pride, ego, desire, and knowledge above truth and obedience to God? It is not healthy, it is not safe, and it does not make for a happy ending. Remember always what Peter wrote: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Pet. 1:14-16 ESV).