Ignorance and God

Picture 023Many readers will be familiar with the following post. It appears from time to time. It appears first – so that I may remember it. It appears second that others may not forget it. Some days it weighs more heavily on me than others. I should learn to wear it more easily since it is the suit of clothes I wear without fail (even when I think otherwise). May God have mercy on us all.

I am an ignorant man, despite posting writings on all kinds of things. But make no mistake – I am an ignorant man. Thus, I would always counsel any reader to remember, these are the writings of an ignorant man.

Why would I say this? Because it is true. How am I ignorant? I am as most of us are – I do not see the world clearly for what it is. I do not see other people clearly for what they are. I do not see myself clearly for what I am. And most importantly, I do not see God for Who He Is.

Ignorance cannot be an excuse. It should be an impetus to seek, to ask, to knock. If we do not know God we will perish – this is absolutely true. And ignorance in other matters brings its own perishing as well.

I don’t think I have always thought I was ignorant – indeed, I know I did not always think this. But as years have gone on, either I’ve become more ignorant, or I’ve become more aware of how ignorant I truly am. What do any of us actually know of another human being? The Scriptures tell us that our true life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians), thus the truth of any person is a mystery. And I know almost nothing of this mystery – not only towards myself but also and especially towards those around me. How do I know what another man needs? I do not know. God knows.

What do any of us actually know of God? I believe we only know of God what has been revealed to us in Christ. And just reading the revelation is a world away from actually knowing and “having” the revelation. That comes very slowly indeed.

The Elder Sophrony wrote that such revelations come in something like a “flash of lightning, when the heart is burning with love.” These relatively rare experiences accumulate over a lifetime:

The accumulation in the experience of the Church of such ‘moments’ of enlightenment has led organically to their reduction into one whole. This is how the first attempt at the systemization of a live theology came about, the work of St. John of Damascus, a man rich, too, in personal experience. The disruption of this wondrous ascent to God in the unfathomable wealth of higher intellection is brought about, where there is a decline of personal experience, by a tendency to submit the gifts of Revelation to the critical faculty of our reason – by a leaning towards ‘philosophy of religion.’ The consequences are scholastic accounts of theology in which, again, there is more philosophy than Spirit of life. (From his work On Prayer).

I ask those of you who read this blog to remember that I am an ignorant man and to pray for me, if you remember to. I pray for you all.

A Romanian version of this article can be found here.

A French translation can be found here.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





12 responses to “Ignorance and God”

  1. reader Steven Clark Avatar

    Thank you for this blog and the reminder that we are the darkness that the Light has come to illumine

  2. elizabeth Avatar

    I have not seen this post before and thank you for posting it. How little we all truly know! Just when I begin to think I understand, I get confused again. I take instruction and illumination where I can find it, but in general I find that I spend my life in far greater trust than in knowledge.

    Of course, I will remember to pray for you — and for all priests, who give us parishioners so much, regardless of the state of their ignorance.

  3. Russell Mangiapane Avatar
    Russell Mangiapane

    Along with the blind man Bartimeus I cry out “Lord, open my eyes that I might see!”

  4. Karinann Avatar

    I was thinking of BarTimeus as well as I read this post. I am new to your blog, so I thank you for posting this again and for the reminder that I too am more ignorant than I am often willing to admit.
    Thanks again and God bless!

  5. katia Avatar

    Fr Stephen bless,

    if you ve seen this before or has been posted please delete

  6. Dusty Henry Avatar
    Dusty Henry

    I had a real dream once a few years ago. I saw a little boy, perhaps aged 3 years, asleep in his bed. His father came in to the room late at night and knelt down beside the bed, touched the little boys head, and whispered something.

    I was given to understand that the little boy never actually got to see his father. The father worked during the day and only came home after the boy went to bed and left to work again early in the morning. He learned about his father from his loving mother, of course, and from pictures and from stories told him by his older sister. But the little boy didn’t get to see his father for himself. Not yet. He had met him only in his dreams.

    I know that I am not only an ignorant man, but, also a little boy asleep in his bed. I mostly know my Father as in a dream.

  7. easton Avatar

    father, i am new to your sight also. thank you for doing this blog. with all the “junk” on the internet, it is uplifting to read your thoughts! my father use to say with a laugh that children started up “fools hill” when they were around 13. he said they knew everything until sometime in their 20’s when they finally started down “fools hill” and realized how much their parents knew. i am now ,in middle age, feeling the same way about myself and how little i really know!! i use to think i was really SOMETHING!!

  8. Dave B Avatar
    Dave B

    Fr., bless,

    The more I read of your writing, the less I know. Perhaps if you keep writing, and I keep reading, by God’s grace, we will both someday know nothing!

    Trying to pray, and asking for your prayers,

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Perhaps we should create the Saint Sergeant Schultz club: “I know nothing!”

  10. Barbara Avatar

    LOL, Fr. Stephen. I’m already an honorary member of that club!

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Please thank your Fr. Nicholas. Knowing that other priests are reading this helps keep me on the straight and narrow – it also simplifies what I write (so that it is on a level I can have more confidence in) – and generally steers me away from controversy (other than seeking to contend for the faith once delivered). It means a tremendous amount to me when I hear that another priest finds this work to be of use – to him or to his people. Parish priests carry a very hard load. Anything that helps is worth it.

  12. Darlene Avatar

    I think the beloved Apostle Paul encouraged us “in humility count others better than yourself” because it is our tendency to think more highly of ourselves. “We are but dust” the Scriptures say, which is a humbling thought.

    Father, although you think of yourself as an ignorant man, there is much I have learned from you as regards Orthodoxy. Father Nicholas, the priest at the parish I attend, considers your blog one of the few reliable places to on the Internet to learn about Orthodoxy. Keep posting.

    In Christ’s Immeasurable Love,


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