“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
These were Jesus’ last words, in reference to those who crucified him. I imagine it wasn’t the last time He uttered this phrase, as He continues to look on humanity, asking God to forgive us because we don’t know what we’re doing.
Here Jesus identifies a fundamental feature of sin- “knowing not what we do.” Ignorance alone makes sin seem compelling. If we knew what we were signing up for – the generational scourge we would incur, just how far down the dark path sin would take us, how painful and peaceless that path would be, how hard it would be to turn around, and the people we would hurt in the process – there would be no choice. The immediate pleasure of sin would never be worth the first step down that ominous road. In fact, the immediate pain of the discipline required to avoid that is a downright bargain. Sin is ignorance (James 3:16). And ignorance begets ignorance; we sin only to become more sinful, our appetites rendered only more base and dull, constantly demanding more filthy stimulus to be satisfied as our spiritual aim narrows and lowers.
Obedience operates much the same way. When we say YES to God, giving him everything and humbly asking him to direct our lives at whatever cost to us, we likewise “know not what we do.” “Knowing not what we do,” is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1). We have no idea of the generational sprawl of blessings, the people we will help, or the blooming expanse of joy and peace that we are in for, incomprehensible to our yet unsanctified minds. We “know not what we do,” because we can’t know – we couldn’t fathom it if we tried – it is just that good. When we faithfully submit to God even though “we know not what we do,” we taste “what no eye has seen nor ear has heard, nor heart of man has imagined” that “God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) When we submit to his sanctification, he elevates our appetites, both satisfying them and making them more satiable. The sanctified mind enjoys an almost tittilating sensitivity to joy- one that finds deep satisfaction in moments as ordinary as a pleasant shift of sunlight. We obey only to become more obedient, enjoying more as we become more joyful. Faith leaves us we wanting more and needing less. It lifts our aim to the eternal best, and we find what we seek (Matt. 7:7).
We sin because “we know not what we do,” but we obey even though “we know not what we do.” One is ignorance, the other is faith. The bottom line is that our dull and comparatively insectile human psyches never know what we do, but we do know why we do it, and who we are doing it for. We’re not flying blind. Are we doing “it” for God, out of faith and obedience, or for ourselves, to appease the immediate demands of the flesh and ego? One road leads to unfathomable blessings, the other to inconceivable horrors– both to people and places and events we cannot yet see. For that latter path that we all inevitably manage to find ourselves on, we may rest, knowing that even then, Christ advocates for us, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”