Do We Really Not Know?
Do We Really Not Know?
Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” In those words is a subtle condemnation — but a condemnation, nonetheless — of willful ignorance. Indeed, it is a shame to be willfully ignorant, and in addition to the shame is the sad fact that some are being dishonest as they proclaim one cannot know what one is simply unwilling to learn.
In our modern world, where education and human knowledge is touted as the supreme goal, achievement, and advantage of mankind, it is simply incredible to find that there is a great portion of our society that are not only willfully ignorant, but who are also proud to identify themselves as such! You would think that most people would rather trumpet their knowledge than their ignorance, and that no one would actually boast of their ignorance, but that is indeed the case. What makes this incredible fact so incredible all the more is that the ignorance they boast of is nothing less than a willful ignorance, for what they claim to not know can be known, but they are either too cowardly to admit there are facts available to convict one of the truth, or too lazy to put forth the effort and learn.
Who are these willfully ignorant ones who boast of their ignorance? It is the one who proclaims himself an agnostic. Now, as the term has come to be defined, an agnostic is one who “holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary). Now, while that has become the common usage of the word, the term itself [agnostic] comes directly from the Greek, and is a combination of a- [meaning without] and -gnosis [knowledge]. The simple fact is, those who profess to be agnostic are boasting of their ignorance — and don’t be fooled into accepting their argument that what they do not know is something that cannot be known.
First of all, we have the evidence our Creator [God] has left for us to examine, which points to Him as Creator. The apostle Paul, in fact, wrote of some in his day [about 2000 years ago; this is nothing new] who had that same knowledge available to them, but chose to, instead, though “they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). Let us note first that these people, whoever they were, “knew God,” but they did not “glorify Him as God”; but why? It wasn’t because they did not have evidence to the contrary; in fact, Paul wrote just prior to this that they were the ones who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20). In other words, they could see the incontrovertible evidence, but they chose to ignore it; they had no excuse for not knowing or believing.
Again, we might ask: Why? Paul answers that, too: “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Rom. 1:28), which leads us to ask yet again: Why? The answer to that is found in their behavior once they had rejected the knowledge of God and began the spiral down into idolatry and various sexual perversions, and all sorts of ungodly behavior (Rom. 1:24-32). They rejected the knowledge of God because if they admitted the evidence, they would have to admit knowledge of God was possible, and if knowledge of God was possible, then submission to God would naturally follow, and that would not allow them to live however they wished or do whatever they wished to do. It wasn’t because they couldn’t know God, or even that they didn’t know God. They could know God and they did know God, but they rejected Him and just chose to live as if He didn’t really exist. They professed themselves wise and began practicing all kinds of deviant and ungodly things, to the point God simply gave them over to do whatever they wanted, without restraint. Does any of this sound familiar?
And lest we think it is only the completely godless ones of the world who reject knowledge and make claims of ignorance, let us consider that this was done by even the religious leaders of the first century! Yes, even the most religious ones then — and some even today — make a claim of ignorance of things God has clearly revealed, and for the same reason as those godless ones we just noted. Consider one occasion where Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders of the first century.
On this occasion, Jesus was in Jerusalem, in the Temple teaching. It was there “the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’” (Matt. 21:23) Now that was not necessarily a bad question, and it was something within their scope of authority to ask, as they were responsible for the spiritual guidance of the Jews. But Jesus knew their intent and their hypocrisy, so He turned the question back on them, and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (Matt. 21:24, 25). A simple question, right?
But “they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus and said, ‘We do not know.’” (Matt. 21:25-27). But did they really not know? Oh, they knew, and they even admitted an answer was possible, but they did not like either answer! They would be seen as either hypocrites or in opposition to God, so they simply said, “We do not know.” Again, does this sound familiar?
Today, we have religious leaders telling the world we cannot know, or understand, the Bible. We even have some gospel preachers who only on certain topics such as marriage, divorce, and remarriage, all of a sudden proclaim that we “can’t know” what the truth is on these controversial and emotional subjects. But is that really the case? Is it really the case that we “cannot know” what God teaches, or is it something else? Could it be that, like the religious leaders of the first century, some would be exposed as either hypocrites or standing in opposition to God and His will? Could it be that, like the godless ones Paul described in his letter to the Romans, some would rather not acknowledge the truth of God’s word on certain subjects because it would expose their church doctrines as false, or because it would not permit them to live however they wished, or publicly approve of how many of their members want to live, or are now living?
Brethren, if we are interested in truth, we will first acknowledge the possibility of knowing it, then acknowledge the possibility and the ability to understand it and apply it to self, and we must then stand in defense of it without hesitation and without apology.
Let us not fool ourselves on these things: What God has shown us can be known and can be understood and can be believed. For this, we will all have to stand and give an account to Him one day. — Steven Harper