I was driving home yesterday, listening to a song that was talking about Christ coming in the form of a man and being crucified, (it was more upbeat than it sounds, I swear!) that referred to Christ’s words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a). I’ve always thought of that in light of the Roman soldiers who were torturing and crucifying Jesus without any grasp of what the Sanhedrin was really doing, or who He really was — in its context in Luke, it does seem to be referring to that. But as I was listening to that, it hit me in a whole new way: Jesus was talking about all of us. Jesus was talking about me.
A lot of our difficulties in life are from a lack of understanding. From when we are children and fall or break things because we don’t really have a grip on the whole gravity concept (or are teaching ourselves about it through extensive experimentation!), to when we are teenagers and do crazy things because we really lack an understanding of our own mortality or the long-term consequences of our actions, many of our mistakes come from just not really getting the full picture.
I like to think of myself as a competent person, someone who does a good job (or given my standards, an excellent job) at whatever task is in front of me. I like to feel like I know what I’m talking about and make it a point to do my research before I speak about something so I’m not saying something that I don’t feel pretty confident in. I like to do things really well, and it drives me crazy when I can’t do something excellently because of circumstances or having too much on my plate or whatever. I am all about being competent – capable, knowledgeable, experienced, skilled and all the other synonyms that go with it. I want to know what I’m doing and do it well, and to be respected for both.
Everyone has their idols. Some worship money and would do anything to get more, while others worship attractiveness, or pleasing others. For me, competence would have to be one of the biggest idols. I’ve always wanted to feel like I am competent, and anything that bumps up against that has revealed to me by my reaction that this is waaaaaaaaay more important to me than it should be. Someone says something that seems to come across like they doubt I can do something (God help them!), or like I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I can just feel the “claws” coming out in my mind and heart, even if by the grace of God I don’t come across that way to them or say or do something that shows how much it really bothers me. I really think being competent by my standards and being perceived as competent is my cow made of earrings. Or at least the biggest one.
So what does this have to do with Jesus saying to “forgive them for they know not what they do”? It hit me as I was driving along with the force of a lightning bolt: Jesus was talking about me. I am the one who is doing things without really knowing what I am doing or grasping the magnitude or consequences of it. Just like Adam and Eve, I am making decisions based on my very limited perspective (compared with God, we all have very limited perspective!). They chose to disobey God because they thought they really wanted what the serpent said God was holding back from them – the knowledge of good and evil. But think about it – they didn’t know evil or death before this. They had no understanding of pain or suffering or separation from God or shame or grief or guilt or anything bad before this. All they knew was perfect intimate relationship with their Creator – who had told them that if they ate the fruit from that one tree (in a GIGANTIC garden with every fruit imaginable) they would die. God knew what suffering and shame and death and separation from Him would be like for them, and so He gave them that command from His infinite knowledge to spare them all of that out of the infinite love He had for them.
We don’t often see God’s commands that way. Usually, we see them (as Adam and Eve did) as an incursion on our liberty in some way, as unnecessary or overkill or just some kind of God “bossiness” because we think He wants to control us (Which is kind of funny and pathetic when you think about it, since He could most definitely control us if He chose to!). But what dawned on me in the car is that God is the only one who is truly competent. He is the only one who does everything perfectly, who knows everything about everything, who never makes mistakes, and who always knows what He is talking about.
And what Jesus is saying on the cross is the most wonderful thing in the world to hear if you have decided you no longer want to be ruled by that merciless, tyrannical idol of competence: you are incompetent. You have no idea what you’re doing. You have no idea what your sin really represents and you have no idea what the far-reaching impact of that sin really is. You have no idea what perfect union with God looks like or feels like, so you don’t even know what you’re giving up every time you choose sin over honoring God’s commands. You have no idea what hell is like, so you are making decisions about your relationship of God without a true understanding of what you will face if you choose wrong. You have no idea what other problems you are causing for yourselves, your family, your friends, and people you don’t even know by your choices which you think you are making out of some ocean of wisdom and knowledge that is in reality a tiny, pathetic teardrop.
How wonderful to think of finally letting that stupid, painful idea go: I am incompetent! I don’t have to feel guilt or shame when I get things wrong because I am incompetent and who would expect an incompetent person to get things right? I don’t have to know everything about everything and have the right answers for everything after doing research on everything, because what incompetent person can do that?
Even better than that, the One who actually knows what my sin represents, what the impact of that sin is, what perfect union with Him is like, what hell is like, and what other problems I am causing for myself and others in sinning are has already suffered and died for my sins and drawn me near to know Him and accept Him as my savior and I am forgiven for all of it.
I don’t have to be competent, because He is. And you don’t have to be competent, either, if you come to know Him and accept His competence and forgiveness on your behalf.
Who knew incompetence could be so wonderful?!