We are all born ignorant and much of life is spent learning and discovering things we were previously ignorant about. I point this out because people often feel embarrassed about their ignorance and some are insulted and persecuted because of what they don’t know.
Being ignorant is absolutely normal. The most informed people are actually more ignorant than they are informed. I am ignorant of Mongolian culture, Peruvian politics, surviving decompression, analysing lunar soil, finding water in the desert and the baggage retrieval system at Heathrow.
I also can’t graft trees, audit accounts, perform an autopsy, make sushi, list the rivers of America or read Latin.
Some years ago a missionary friend asked me to talk with his teenage daughter who was being bullied by friends. She was taunted because of things she didn’t know and reacted by being angry at her parents. I agreed with her that she didn’t know the things her friends asked her, but I suggested she ask them if they could speak Spanish. She could, and there were many other things she knew from her world travels that they were ignorant of. Realising that, the girl turned her attitude around and realised she was not as ignorant as those who taunted her.
It is a shameful thing that people are made to feel bad about their ignorance, since it is such a universal experience. Let me repeat that the most informed people are actually more ignorant than they are informed.
Each person venturing into the world will face their ignorance. Hopefully most of us are at least trained in manners and some basic social skills. Our greatest danger is not our ignorance but our refusal to be taught and to overcome any ignorance that gets in our way.
Often westerners are arrogant toward foreigners. I have heard people say that foreigners need to learn English. English speakers tend to think others should learn English but they don’t have to learn the other person’s language. That’s arrogance.
I once saw a sign in Europe that said, “If you speak three languages you are Tri-Lingual. If you speak two languages you are Bi-Lingual. If you speak only one language you are English.”
My wife and I learned years ago that it is a blessing to those from foreign countries to find us trying to learn their original name and some words from their culture.
Refusing to be taught is arrogance. Ignorance is normal. Arrogance is unacceptable.
Arrogance is what tells us our own way is right. It keeps us going the wrong way. It keeps us from opening our eyes and enriching our lives.
I recall flying into New Zealand on my first trip outside Australia. As we flew low over the capital city, Auckland, I compared what I saw with what I knew from Australia. I decided, in my arrogance, that the houses were inferior. At that time a quality Australian home was made of brick, but the Auckland houses were almost exclusively clad with timber. Soon after my arrival I informed a local that the homes were of a lower quality than Australian homes. He politely pointed out to me that Australia does not experience regular earthquakes and so brick homes are fine there.
That put me back in my box, so to speak. Over time I realised that New Zealand homes were fine and the standard of living was as good as anyone could want. But earthquakes made it useless to build in brick.
I was arrogant and proud, to even think to insult someone else’s way of life. I was also ignorant of the facts. Ignorance was excusable, but my arrogance was not. I had no right to an opinion about something I didn’t understand.
That was the beginning of a lot of learning I have had to do as I travelled through many countries and encountered cultural ways, foods, customs and structures different to what I grew up with.
In my arrogance I assumed the world was measured by what I knew from childhood. But as it turns out most people on the planet live differently to the way I grew up. My experience doesn’t set the benchmark.
The worst kind of ignorance, however, is being ignorant of God and what God has revealed to us in His word. And the worst kind of arrogance is thinking we don’t need to humble ourselves before God.
Whether you travel the world or live in one village all your life, you can’t afford to be ignorant of God and you certainly can’t afford to think you know better than God.
I urge you to open your heart and your life, to remove ignorance of the ways of God and to abandon all arrogance that you somehow know what is true. Open your heart to God and begin to learn His ways. Humble your heart to abandon all forms of pride and arrogance when it comes to the things of God.
Keep a beautiful heart before God, and never fear your ignorance, because Ignorance is Normal.