The Gift of Being Wrong

I wouldn’t say I love being wrong or uninformed. But it’s pretty great to make peace with reality. Denial is an intoxicating and readily available elixir. If we’re lucky, however, we realize that the relief it promises is temporary at best. Only truth—including its unpleasant forms—can set us free; and the truth is there’s a lot we haven’t got figured out. I’ve spent the better part of my life in school. There’s a maxim in higher education circles that the ultimate direction of study is toward a fuller understanding of how much we don’t know. That’s certainly been my experience. And it’s become increasingly troubling to me how unwelcome such not knowing can be in my own faith community.

One would think that people of faith would embrace the limits of human understanding and insight. But viewing ourselves as a special people who finally got it right is a pretty enticing alternative. The heresy of salvation through special, esoteric knowledge is not new. Second-century gnosticism—one of the earliest Christian heresies—made quite a splash. And, alas, bad ideas are often like viruses that keep coming back. When they infect an entire church organization, the corporate competence for denial can make them even more difficult to treat.

But there is hope for us in the midst of how very wrong we often are. Speaking of Jesus, the Gospel of John proclaims, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The light of Christ continues to shine in the darkness of our ignorance and arrogance. Thankfully, God’s work of redemption does not require us to have our act together. And the same Jesus who “became flesh and lived among us” dwells among us still, revealing the divine grace and truth that sets us free.

There is no greater opportunity to encounter living Truth and be present to the God who is always present to us than when we gather to worship together. There is of course liberating power in apprehending the Gospel. But we are invited into an orthodoxy not simply of correct thinking but of worship. We use the word “orthodoxy” to mean a set of “right ideas,” but the word literally means “right glory”—namely, the right way to glorify and praise God. The diversity of the biblical record and human culture reveals that there are many right ways to glorify God; but none of them involve worshipping the idol of our “right ideas” that we’ve put in God’s place.

Worship is the only paradigm within which theological truth—“right ideas”—can be understood in their right place. So, for example, if you are leading a bible study on Sabbath morning (or any other time), don’t miss the opportunity to pray together and praise the God who created and redeemed us before diving into scriptural debates, important as they may be. We all need to be reminded that there is little value in being right for the wrong reason and immeasurable value in being inevitably wrong in various ways but with “right glory” focusing us on Jesus.

I wouldn’t say I love being wrong or uninformed. Correct knowledge is always preferable and beneficial. But it’s a gift to embrace what we don’t know—to cease the idolatrous, self- centered worship of “right ideas”—and worship instead the God who graciously meets us as we are, bad ideas an all, allowing us to experience Jesus’ “right glory,” “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”