Ignorance Is Not Bliss (1 Corinthians 8:7–8)


People say “Ignorance is bliss” and speak about “the burden of knowledge.” I know what they mean. My two-year-old son doesn’t know that I work to provide him food and clothing. He is happy, well-fed, and stylishly clothed nonetheless—thanks to my wife, his mother. On the other hand, I know that my livelihood provides for his needs, so I take care to remain gainfully employed. He is blissfully ignorant. I am burdened by knowledge.

But in another sense, ignorance makes us unhappy and oppresses us. Consider 1 Corinthians 8:7–8, where Paul writes:

But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

“[N]ot everyone knows this,” alludes to verse 4: “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.” As I pointed out yesterday, what we know influences how we live. If we know that idols are objectively unreal, then we know that food sacrificed to them is objectively insignificant. “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” How and what we eat may affect our physical health, but not our spiritual wellbeing. Knowledge liberates us from superstition about food, not to mention about everything else.

On the other hand, ignorance oppresses. Referring to people who converted to Christianity, Paul writes: “Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” To such people, idols are real and food is significant. This reality and significance is subjective rather than objective, however. Idols are real to them, and idol food is significant to their conscience. When they eat food sacrificed to idols, therefore, they feel “defiled,” even though they are not objectively defiled.

Knowledge liberates. Ignorance oppresses. If we want to liberate people from superstition, we must educate them out of their ignorance. Teaching the truth is a vital and necessary component of proper spiritual formation.

But how shall we teach? The Corinthians flaunted their freedom, and in the process of doing so, they offended “the weak” (verse 9). Paul, on the other hand, observed the scruples of the weak even as he patiently taught them why those scruples were superstitious (verse 13).

Our culture does not sacrifice food to idols. We engage in other forms of idolatry and are oppressed by other superstitions. We must educate our culture out of idolatry and into Christ, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). But we must do so in a Christ-like way.

More on that tomorrow.

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