Faith tells us some things – the Holy Scriptures serve as another source of revelation – the Holy Tradition of the Church also informs us of much – but, nevertheless, in the face of all these things our lives are still largely lived in ignorance. It’s not that we cannot memorize Scripture (some memorize much a wield it lika a “sorcerer’s apprentice” doing all sorts of damage). Neither are we ignorant of many things in Holy Tradition. The ignorance which envelopes virtually all of us is the difference between the general and the particular.
There are many things we can know about the Christian life in general and yet remain quite ignorant when it comes to some important particular.
We do not know ourselves and our hearts in anything like a full manner. We are frequently as enigmatic to ourselves as we are to those around us.
We do not know others who often remain far more enigmatic to us than we are to ourselves.
We do not always know God as we should or as we would like. The “pure in heart will see God,” but few of us are pure in any thing.
So how do we live in the midst of such ignorance?
First, it is important that we admit how much ignorance is a part of our lives. The result can be a much healthier humility than is usually encountered.
Second, recognizing our ignorance, we should refuse to claim knowledge that we do not have. This is a matter of avoiding self-deception.
I believe the important strategy for Christian living in the face of such ignorance is fully accounted for in Scripture itself. We are enjoined to be patient. Patience is a very great virtue for those who live largely in ignorance. With patience we have the opportunity to wait until God makes things known and clear. There is, as I mentioned before, a “slowness” about grace that requires patience. That slowness is only underlined by the ignorance in which we live.
Forbearance becomes an equally important virtue. My ignorance of myself is quickly overmatched by my ignorance of others. Thus, though I may find myself offended by others, I am enjoined to forbear. Putting up with one another is an absolute essential within the Body of Christ. We fail at this, and thus have to return to patience and prayer.
Along with all of this is a corollary: Knowledge is not necessary for the working of grace. In a self-help society, we are caught up in a culture of self-knowledge. There is a tacit assumption that by learning about ourselves, or the etiology of an personality disorder, we can therefore “fix” it. This is simply not true. The healing and saving work of grace – changing us into the image of Christ – is a great mystery – frequently wrought in such a way that we do not see its work in the least. Grace and workings of God tend to be referred to as being “made manifest.” They are true and have always been true, but they are not always “manifest” until the fullness of time. When the time is ripe, God will make them known.
The working of penance and confession, of communion and the many means by which God gives Himself to us is a river of grace – we are surrounded and sustained by grace – though we remain all too often ignorant of this reality.
Thus to live the life of grace – we live by faith – trusting in the Good God who made Himself manifest in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. I like St. Paul’s summary:
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:8-15)