A higher level of ignorance

I was skimming through an old Terry Pratchett book (Equal Rites if you must know) and came across a piece of dialogue which I loved. It’s between two wizards at the Unseen University who have just been lectured on some esoteric knowledge.

‘I look at it like this,’ he said. ‘Before I heard him talk, I was like everyone else. You know what I mean? I was confused and uncertain about all the little details of life. But now,’ he brightened up, ‘while I’m still confused and uncertain it’s on a much higher plane, d’you see, and at least I know I’m bewildered about the really fundamental and important facts of the universe.’

Treatle nodded. ‘I hadn’t looked at it like that,’ he said, ‘but you’re absolutely right. He’s really pushed back the boundaries of ignorance. There’s so much about the universe we don’t know.’

I couldn’t help but think how true this was. It seems to me that the more I study and read at university, the less I realise I know and so the level of ignorance becomes more profound. Kind of humbling really.

And as for its application for faith – it’s even more serious. I wonder if those who spout forth with certainty about what’s God wants/expects and the rights/wrongs that are so Biblically clear are simply living in a tiny bubble of reality?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some existentialist angst bubbling to the surface, just a very apposite thought following on from yesterday. Yesterday was the first day of my placement at Camelon and I was involved in a meeting to plan out the preaching and teaching themes for next year. The focus is to be on the Apostles’ Creed and about its individual statements of the Christian faith. Can they be treated as absolutes? I suppose that in a sense they must be. Our faith must have some bedrock or foundation and for the Christian that must be God; Father, Son and Spirit. Can we go beyond that? I think the answer has to be yes. But we do so in the uncertainty of faith.

2 responses to “A higher level of ignorance”

  1. Ahh, Terry Pratchett….
    Never associated him with classical creeds of the church before.
    Trouble with creeds is that they can sometimes over complicate faith. And they need to be adaptable for the age, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are absolutes. Like the Lord’s prayer, words change meaning and they need to be reinterpreted for now.
    I’m happy enough with the three word creed ‘Jesus is Lord’, but I don’t think that would satisfy systematice theologians ! 

  2. David,
    If only you’d been at Chalcedon and all the others, I’m sure it would have been so much simpler. 😉
    The three-word version is pretty good right enough. But what do we mean when we say ‘Jesus is Lord’? Just joking… couldn’t resist. It’s the systematic theologian in me.
    For me, I think, the creeds are the ‘bungee cords’ that keep me from getting too far away from Christianity’s distinctiveness. There’s freedom in them but eventually they pull you back to a place where it all holds together again.

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