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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ignorance is no excuse, except when Jesus says it is!

In suggesting that God might be willing to overlook the imperfect understanding of "His" little ones, this old legal maxim came to mind: "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." For those who view God as a harsh and uncompromising entity, this traditional attitude toward lawbreakers perfectly reflects God's attitude towards humanity with regard to our many sins.

However, when Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross, he is purported to have said: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NIV, emphasis mine) Most folks rightly focus on the amazing compassion in Christ's request that God would forgive his murderers. But how many of us have read this Scripture dozens of times and completely overlooked the justification that Christ employed (they don't know what they're doing) in making his request of God. Jesus said that they should be forgiven because of their imperfect understanding of their actions.

Don't we all recognize these almost instinctive impulses towards compassion and clemency in how we treat our own little ones? We understand that they don't yet fully understand the consequences of their actions, and we are ready to overlook a good many things because of that. Isn't it interesting that our Savior appealed to the same reasoning in what he asked of his Father?


  1. The anonymous writer of "Luke" really writes incredible fiction in the rare instances when he's not plagiarizing the anonymous writer of "Mark".

  2. Sorry for not responding sooner - I've been on the road for two days. However, an objective review of the evidence indicates that Luke's attribution of this statement to Christ has the ring of truth about it. After all, forgiveness is a central theme in almost everything recorded in Scripture about Jesus. Moreover, the Gospel of John attributes several statements to Christ regarding the ignorance of the Jewish people about God, "His" Law and Christ. (John 5:37-47, 7:28, 8:19, etc.) The Gospels of Matthew and Mark also have Christ reprimanding the Sadducees for their ignorance of the Scriptural references to the resurrection of the dead. (Matthew 22:29 and Mark 12:24)
    It is also consistent with two stories that appear in Luke's account of the "Acts of the Apostles." In his "second" sermon, Peter told his audience that he knew that they had acted out of ignorance when they had participated in killing Jesus. (Acts 3:17) Also, after telling a mob of Jews that they actively resisted the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), Luke records that Stephen's final words before his martyrdom were: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." (Acts 7:60)
    Luke's attribution of this statement to Christ is also consistent with Paul's statement to the Romans that each one of us is responsible to our own conscience. He wrote: "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Romans 14:5) Indeed, the importance of our individual responsibility not to violate our own conscience (in other words, our knowledge of what is right and wrong) is a common theme in Paul's writings. Likewise, James wrote: "Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17) The clear implication (in both cases) being that ignorance is an important mitigating factor in God's judgment of "His" people.
    Hence, Luke's attribution of this statement to Christ does not seem that incredible or outlandish to me.