Freely admitting ignorance

Faith & Inspiration

I have a theory that most people would rather be thought immoral than stupid. Examine yourself: Would you rather confess to a bad temper, or to not knowing what the capital of Germany is.

Recently, I joined about a dozen people for a trek into the woods with a nature guide. At one point Jim told us about “nematodes.” I had never heard of that phylum of animal, which seems outrageous now since I found out they account for 80 percent of all the animals on the planet. Many nematodes are parasites, covering their hosts to the tune of more than a million nematodes per square meter.

At one point, our knowledgeable guide quipped that if all the animals in the world were to disappear before our very eyes, they would still cast a shadow.

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I suppose most of the group “got it,” though the collective response was silence. I stood there like a dummy, unwilling to let on that I was completely clueless. Finally, one of our party, Bob, asked for explanation. Jim simply elaborated that the covering of nematodes on an animal was very dense indeed, so as to produce, as it were, a solid outline of the host.

There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? When you don’t understand something you ask a question, and usually you find that the sky doesn’t fall. Good for Bob. Good for him being willing to look ignorant. Good for him offering himself as the scapegoat. The Lord loves a childlike heart, and a person who is not controlled by fear of man.

A long time ago a Christian counseling director said that when he was a rookie at a seminary faculty meeting in the mid-1970s, someone in the group used the word “unconscionable,” and the president of the institution immediately piped up, “What does that word mean?”

When the meeting had adjourned, the young professor asked the president privately how he had brought himself to admit ignorance before all his colleagues. He replied that a long time ago he had written his Ph.D. thesis on the transfiguration of Christ. He figured that when he was done he probably knew as much about the subject as any man alive—but that compared to God he knew nothing at all. Ever since then, he has never been overly impressed with the knowledge of men.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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