Where Ignorance is Bliss
The popular saying "ignorance is bliss" really is "where ignorance is bliss." That exact phrase is from a 1742 poem by Thomas Gray titled "Ode on A Distant Prospect of Eton College." It looks at youth starting their college careers. The poet wishes they could remain ignorant of true loss and suffering because that would be a sort of bliss, or would it? We'll see.
I do know in some places ignorance is not bliss. To put it another way, in some places what you don't know can hurt you. Our text has several of those places. The first place is this: Not knowing how short are your days is not blissful ignorance. Jesus says not that we don't know "when that time will come" but even "when the season is." We're told here we don't know the season, the day, and certainly not the hour of our end or thee end. All this ignorance can't in itself hurt us because Jesus says we can't know it. The ignorance that is not bliss does not know its time is short.
This we can know, and in the Introit we prayed to know it. "Show me, O Lord, my life's end, and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life." Show me O Lord that my days are "a mere handbreadth." Teach me that the span of my years in this life is nothing compared to eternity. May I learn that my life lasts no longer than a breath does upon a cold window. Not knowing how transitory, how temporary, how brief, how short is your life is not blissful ignorance. It's dangerous.
There is another place where ignorance is not bliss. Judgment Day. Luther said that he only had two days on his calendar today and that day (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 296). Not me I have today, holidays, vacation days, work days, hunting days, and just about every other day on my calendar except that day. And I'm condemned by Luther himself as the greatest sinner.
He preached in a sermon, "The sin which God considers the greatest sin of all, the one he condones or tolerates less than any other, is the sin of His people of not acknowledging His Day of Judgment" (Klug, II, 368). In another sermon Luther said that the unbelieving world looks upon the judgment "as yet a 1000 and more years off, when in the twinkling of an eye, they may stand before the terrible judgment bar of God" (Lenker, 7, 61). In yet another sermon, Luther quotes St. Jerome twice. "'Whether I am eating or drinking, sleeping or awake or doing something else, the voice always sounds in my ears: "Arise, you dead, Come before the judgment."'" "'If there is any joy in this present life, then one should enjoy it in such a way that the gravity of the coming judgment does not leave our mind not fall from our memory (LW, 58, 143, 144)'"
Is your life anything like Jerome's or Luther's? Mine isn't. I have slipped from the truth that I can't know when Judgment Day is to being ignorant of the fact that there is a Day of Judgment. And "being nice" won't cut it on that day. "Open-mindedness" won't be enough either. God will laugh at those who come before Him claiming, "I didn't judge others so you can't judge me." He will listen as people enter into evidence their genes, their abusive upbringing, the hardships of their life, and then He will say, "Depart from Me you evildoers into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and His angels."
"Well-well, I-I-I," you stammer, "I at least know my sins." Good for you, but knowing your sins is not enough if you are ignorant of your sinfulness. If you think your biggest problem is that you do this or don't do that, and are ignorant of the fact that your real wretchedness is not shown by what you do but by what you are, your ignorance is far from bliss. Jude mentions "hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." Do you see that your fallenness is that complete, that thorough? Do you see that your corruption is so thorough that it does what Christ's glory did at His Transfiguration? As His divine glory transfigured even the clothes He wore so our sinfulness glows through our very clothing. Unless you know this, you will think you can cover up your sinfulness and that leads to anything but bliss.
Some places ignorance is definitely not bliss; some places it is. John Gray completes the line "Where ignorance is bliss" with "'Tis folly to be wise." We don't want to know more than Jesus does, or as Luther said, "What the Holy Spirit has not told us we should be glad not to know." In terms of this message, while what you don't know can hurt you, what Jesus doesn't know can never hurt you.
This is probably the sore thumb of this text. This is probably the point that stabs you whenever you hear it. Jesus says, "No one knows about that day or hour not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Hilary of Poitiers rightly warns, "The words are those of the Lord Himself, and what, it may be asked, could be more unholy than to corrupt His express assertion by our attempt to explain it away" (On the Trinity, ix, 58).
Jesus plainly says that He the Son doesn't know the day or the hour of His return. In the Gospels, we hear Him say that "His hour has not yet come" to be betrayed, arrested, crucified, and killed. He knew the hour when Judas would kiss Him, Peter deny Him, and the disciples would flee from Him. He knew the hour when the Father would hand Him, the Holy Son of God and of Mary, the cup of wrath filled with judgment against your sins. He knew the hour when He would be hit with soldiers' fists and spat upon by church leaders. He knew the hour when His own mother's soul would be pierced with a sword. He knew the hour when His heavenly Father would abandon Him. He knew the terrible hour when His soul would leave His body. He knew the hour when He would be sealed in the stone cold tomb. He also knew the hour of His resurrection and ascension.
Do you get the point? All the things that pertain to your salvation the Son knew. All the knowledge about how, when, and where He would pay for the sins of the world, was given to the Son. Jesus tells us the knowledge of the day and hour of His return was not given to the Son. You know what that means? You don't need to know that to be saved. When the false teachers arise claiming they know that this day will be the end, you can laugh in their faces. If Jesus doesn't know it, they don't know it, and you can't be hurt by what Jesus doesn't know.
Jesus knows those who are His. Jesus knows those He has called by name in Baptism. He knows those from whom He has sent their sins away in Absolution. He knows those who eat His Body and drink His Blood for forgiveness, life and salvation. He says that He knows us all by name and calls us by name. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:19 that it is part of the firm foundation of God that "The Lord knows those who are His." Jesus doesn't know the wicked.
If fact, Jesus says more than that in Matthew 7:23. He tells the unbelieving who you Romans Bible class people hear and understand Jesus tells the unbelieving who practice lawlessness not only that He doesn't know them but He never knew them. Luke 13 is even an advance on this. There Jesus says that He doesn't know them or where they come from. Perhaps they were baptized as babies but stepped out of those forgiving waters later in life. Perhaps they were confirmed in the faith as a teenager but left for the far country away from the Father as an adult. Perhaps their sins were sent away by a pastor one Sunday morning. "But what did he know," they exclaimed! And so they remained unknown to Jesus.
What's my real point here? What Jesus doesn't know can't hurt those in Jesus. Jesus doesn't know the wicked. They are a cipher, a specter, a thing lacking substance to Him. They are shades from the movie Ghosts. Those who strut about now confidently, boldly proclaiming the death of God, the life of anything goes, the hypocrisy of Christianity, and the triumph of science over religion aren't known by Jesus, and so they can't hurt you. They can pass through you like a cold shiver, but they pass away as a dream dies at the opening of day.
Some places ignorance is bliss; as with what Jesus doesn't know not hurting you. He doesn't know the day or hour of His return; He doesn't know the wicked, and He doesn't know your sins. That's what the New Testament is according to Jeremiah and Hebrews. "I will forgive their sins and remember their sins no more." All the talk about people not really forgiving until they forget is nonsense since it's impossible for a human not to remember something he knows, but what men can't do, Jesus says He does. God in Christ can forget those horrible, heavy, shameful sins of yours even as He can not know the day of His own return.
Look at the figures for forgiving in the Bible. Separating your sins as far from you as East is from West. God throwing your sins behind His back. God hurling your sins into the depths of the sea. God blotting out your sins. These figures are of out of sight, out of mind, and of two things you and your sins never coming together again, ever. Your sins have been put on the back of Christ and carried away; your sins having been sent away by the forgiving Word are no longer known to God in Christ. What Jesus doesn't know can't hurt you. Tis folly to be wiser than Jesus.
And the One who knows us in forgiveness and salvation, leaves us with the word "Watch!" Not wait, not believe, not do good works, but watch. You're watching for a bridegroom coming home to His wedding reception. Expect Him to be in a good mood. You're watching from inside His house. There's not a chance the door is going to be shut on you. You're watching for the One who saved your life. You're watching for One coming laden with gifts for you. Who takes a child on Christmas Eve and tells him "Watch?" You only do that for the child who is ignorant of the grand joys coming, and that ignorance isn't bliss but sad. So Jesus removes it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20151122); Mark 13: 32-37