The Ignorance of UnbeliefFr. Barnabas Powell
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe you.” With that, I watched as our suspect in a series of robberies squirmed in his interrogation seat. My chief of detectives was a master at this kind of questioning, and all our evidence showed this man was the one who had been breaking into several shopping strips in our area for quite some time. When the detective said he didn’t believe the suspect, I watched as the man’s head began to drop. Being disbelieved sets up all kinds of challenges!
But what if we disbelieve what is true? Isn’t that dangerous as well. You bet it is!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Timothy 1:8-14:
TIMOTHY, my son, we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This passage reveals some powerful truths for us.
First, the Rules are for Rule-breakers. There would be no need for rules if we humans were “just.” But all too often we are the exact opposite of just or loving. And that’s when the rules kick in; not just to stop us from doing wrong but to also reveal to us the depth of our own ignorance of what is just and loving and right. In another place St. Paul calls the Law a “schoolmaster” that was meant to teach us just how far off we humans had gone from what God intended for us. Think about that for a bit. The rules were put in place to wake us up to our reality, our distance that we had drifted from God. So many times we stay asleep to our need for God with the excuse “Well, I’m not so bad. After all, I’m not a murderer or a thief.”
And yet, Jesus tells us that if we hold hatred in our hearts for someone else, we have murdered them in our hearts.
Our ignorance, or better yet, our blindness to our own need for God, for Faith, for salvation only proves we still need the rules to wake us up to our true condition and our need for repentance and humility.
Next, The Lord is Merciful. Even though we lawbreakers persist in our ignorance, God didn’t just give up on us. No. God sent us “Good News” (The Evangelion or the Gospel) to tell us that we didn’t have to be lawbreakers. We didn’t have to stay ignorant of His path to freedom from the slavery of our bad choices, habits, and addictions. We were meant to be free! God even used a man like Paul, who once actually consented to the murder of the very first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen. He even made St. Paul the preacher of the Good News to those who were the most lawless and ignorant of God’s love and salvation.
Finally, Ignorance has a cure! When we remain enslaved to our ignorance of God’s goodness, His wisdom, and His grace, we make ourselves a slave. As C.S. Lewis once said “Hell is locked from the inside!” That means that this spiritual ignorance is self inflicted. And it means we are responsible for our own slavery. But God refuses to leave us in this sad ignorance. He gives us His Son. He creates His Church. He calls His preachers. And He commands those who have escaped such ignorance to love their neighbors enough to encourage them to leave the prison of their ignorance as well.
Today, do you suffer the slavery of ignorance. It turns out what you don’t know CAN hurt you! But it doesn’t have to be this way, dearest! God, in His love for you has shined the Light of His wisdom in the whole earth through His Church. And in His Church burns the Light of true wisdom and love. Being Orthodox on Purpose banishes the slavery of ignorance and sets you free!
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