Friday, March 03, 2006

Let him become a fool that he may become wise...

In ancient Greece a shrine dedicated to the pagan god, Apollo stood at Delphi. People seeking answers to questions from the god would travel to the shrine and ask the oracle, a priestess of Apollo, who would answer the question on behalf of the god. A man named Chaerephon once asked the oracle, “Who is the wisest man?” She replied that Socrates was the wisest man.

Upon hearing the oracle's answer from his friend, Socrates was puzzled. Knowing that he was not the wisest man, but unwilling to accept that the god lied; Socrates set out to talk to others with reputations for wisdom. By talking to these wise men he hoped to discover how he could possibly be the wisest man. After speaking with them, Socrates discovered that even though they possessed great reputations for being wise and they certainly saw themselves as being wise, they really weren’t wise at all. He found that they didn’t know much, but they thought they knew much more than they actually did. They had deceived themselves by overestimating their own wisdom. On the other hand, Socrates didn’t know much either, but he realized how little he knew. Therefore, Socrates concluded that he was indeed the wisest man because he recognized his own ignorance.

- Plato, The Apology

If we understand wisdom the way Socrates did, we can be rather unwise ourselves. We are ignorant of more than we know, but we can often overestimate our wisdom. Recognizing our own ignorance is humbling, but when we think we know more than we actually do we can become quite arrogant. Everyone around us seems less intelligent, wise, and knowledgeable than we are. We can even become so arrogant that we judge our Creator, the source of all knowledge and wisdom, as possessing less wisdom and knowledge than we do. How can anyone actually think that he or she has a more complete and coherent understanding of reality than the One who creates reality out of nothing? In our ignorance, we can question whether God is really infinitely holy, powerful, loving, merciful, and compassionate. How can we, who are sinners full of self-righteous pride, hedonistic lust, selfish ambition, and spiritual laziness, judge the true and living God? We are blindly arrogant and incredibly unaware of our own empty ignorance.



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