November 20, 2020

Knowing What You Know, and What You Don’t Know

One of the things I spend a lot of time doing is counseling with people about spiritual (and other) issues. The variety of topics is amazing: from cooking tips to which Bible to buy, I have had a lot of conversations over the years. I am one of those people who tries to know a little about as many things as I can, and I learn from people all the time about things I am clueless about. I like to know things and I like to learn things. I don’t think I am alone in this: all of us should want to increase our knowledge.

When it comes to actual counseling – the kind that takes years of study and oversight – I am not trained in that. I took one half-semester class in pastoral counseling – yes – half of a class devoted to the incredibly important task of sitting and talking and not messing people up. The most important lesson I learned in that class, however, was that I need to be honest about what I know, and what I don’t know. The follow-up lesson is this: if you don’t know something, ask someone who does. Or research it. Or keep your mouth shut about it and don’t do it. Ignorance is just about the most dangerous trait anyone can have, because it can cause an unbelievable amount of damage.

Just this morning, as I read the local paper, I saw 3 letters to the editor that focused on conspiracy theories – 3! First of all, no editor should give space to that nonsense – the burgeoning of conspiracy theories is partly what has made our country a disaster in recent years. Second, someone’s opinion should never be held up side by side with facts. Saying that something “could” be true or “might” have happened doesn’t mean that it is factual and true. Americans have become siloed – we hear something that fits into our personal agenda, and we listen to that perspective only. This is what continues to divide us. And it will destroy us.

I know too many pastors who don’t know their limits: instead of referring people to qualified professionals, they try to fix people with their limited knowledge. I tell every person who comes to me this: if I feel they need more than I can give them, I will continue to help them spiritually, as long as they get professional help as well. I know too many people who saw a headline once and think they know something about the topic – they don’t. I learn from other people all the time – it is my goal, in fact, to learn at least one new thing every day. I have seen the ravages of ignorance, and it scares me. Without knowledge, humanity will continue to act like beasts. Or, as the great German philosopher Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) said, “Human life without knowledge of history is nothing more than a perpetual childhood, nay, a permanent obscurity and darkness.” 

The more I know and learn, the better I understand myself. Knowing about other religions enables me to both respect them and love my own. Knowing about other cultures does the same. Ignorance and arrogance are two sides of the same coin, and neither one looks good on anyone. Know what you know – and know what you don’t know – then, fill the gaps. It will make the world a better place. If we don’t, it will become permanent obscurity and darkness. Our choice.

Prayer – All-knowing God, right now we are in need of wisdom. Open our minds, our hearts, and our lives to Your gift of wisdom, so that the world can be better for our lives well lived. Amen.

Today’s art is “Knowledge Without Wisdom 1 by Paulo Zerbato.