Ignorant and Arrogant

There’s a joke about a person who complains,
“Someone said I’m ignorant and arrogant. I haven’t a clue what they mean and I don’t care!”

It’s a strange struggle we have in life to step outside our ignorance. I guess it harks back to something I often reflect on, that our own way seems right to us, no matter how destructive it might be.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 14:12

Even when we are challenged to think about what we do and why we do it we seem to run out of energy for the challenge and revert to the same old ‘same old’ we have stuck with over time.

I am by no means an innovator, and I’m not what is called an ‘early adopter’, so I can’t hold myself up as an example, yet, thanks to God, I have learned a few things about breaking old mindsets and old patterns.

I recall my son Daniel, in his teenage years, coming up with the insight that unusual or novel foods don’t taste ‘strange’, but taste the way they are meant to taste. We might say they taste ‘strange’ but what we mean is the taste is new and foreign to us. Once we have become familiar with it we discover that the flavour is not ‘strange’ at all, but quite familiar and maybe enjoyable.

The idea that something is ‘strange’ is us revealing that we are Ignorant. Not necessarily in the worst sense of that word, but we have not become exposed to and knowledgable about something that is quite within the range of experience of maybe millions of people.

Growing up in Australia in the 1950’s and 60’s many families had a limited range of foods in their diet, inherited from a British cultural background.

We ate certain foods regularly and it seemed to us that we knew all about food. We knew what we knew quite well. We just didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Over the years, through missionary families mostly, my mum was introduced to Italian food and some modified Asian flavours. When we were introduced to each new thing there was an initial tendency to be wary of it, afraid it would taste unpleasant. Soon, often, the new flavour became a favourite.

In the decades since then, with the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East the average Aussie now enjoys a huge range of flavours and choices which I never knew existed growing up.

We didn’t get to enjoy all the newness by sticking with what we knew. Our ignorance had to give way to exposure to new things.

If we had dug our toes in and insisted that we knew all there was to know then we would not only be ignorant, but also arrogant. Arrogance creates a closed-ness that robs us of openness to new things.

The same proves true with spiritual truths and experiences. Most Christians stick with the style of Christianity they are most familiar with, whether that’s with stained glass windows and huge organs, or sitting on bales of hay with country style songs. Some are accustomed to grand formality, pomp and ceremony, while others are comfortable with laid back informality.

We tend to think that the way we worship is the right way and maybe the best way. That’s a closed, selfish perspective, but it’s pretty normal, so don’t be too hard on yourself. What is needed is a willingness to recognise that we are Ignorant, and to pray that we are not also arrogant.

I was blessed to spend a year in a Bible school among people of a wide range of churches and traditions. I had a number of arrogant ideas about how much better my church did things than other churches. Yet I kept being surprised by the spiritual depth and the lovely grace on people who had rather different backgrounds to me. That began to prod my ignorance and my arrogance.

Global travels, worshipping God in the jungles and in derelict buildings, on beaches and in villages, struggling with musical forms my ear could not enjoy, and sound systems pumped to ear-splitting volume, listening to lengthy prayers in foreign languages, and such like experiences has gone some way to pushing open my boundaries.

What troubles me, then, and I see it more than I would like to, is people who have no idea how ignorant and arrogant they are. They are well-meaning people and what they are doing is not wrong, but they are closed and limited. They don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t know what they are missing.

When I began assisting migrant churches in Australia decades ago I could see that the older generation loved their imported home-grown religious practices. I warned some that their youth would want something more reflective of the new culture they have come to.

Some responded that there was no more precious way to worship God than the way they did back in their village or home country. That might be true for those migrants, but it is not necessarily true for those raised in a different culture.

Maybe that’s why many youth slipped away from the faith of their parents. The parents kept up a church culture from the past, while the culture had moved on and the youth no longer connected with those older styles.

Arrogance says that the way we do it is right. An open heart recognises that God has worked with people of hugely diverse cultures, freshly and uniquely in each new generation. God doesn’t need the trappings of our past or of our culture to reveal Himself. 

That doesn’t mean we abandon the past and all the wonderful things passed to us, in music, messages, art and so on. But it does mean we open ourselves and avoid ignorance, and avoid arrogance, as we look to God to move in each new situation with each new group of people.

A chap chatted with me yesterday about how God gave him the respect of local gang members in his town, many years ago. He invited the gang members to church and they came. That led to the pastor asking the man not to bring these gang types to the church.

To deal with the problem the man was inspired to create a new kind of church, in a hall, where these gang members could connect with faith in some way. Some of those youth became Christian, while others never did open to the gospel. But what might have been the outcome for those who did receive Christ if something fresh hadn’t been developed?

The church that rejected the gang members probably felt quite satisfied that they had managed to avoid dealing with the troubled youth. But they also missed an opportunity God had put on their doorstep.

Another chap I know found himself stepping over men who were sleeping rough while he opened up his cafe each morning. Rather than be annoyed by those he stepped over, he created a Cafe ministry that has touched hundreds of people.

What does God yet have for you? You won’t find it if you are Ignorant and Arrogant.