Growing up in the church, I remember winking at my brothers exaggeratedly after inflicting some sort of pain–a pinch with a twist on the chubby thigh or throwing something at them in the car. What mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
This idea of ignorance went both ways for a house full of mischievous kids. If mom was oblivious to our wrongdoings, there were no wrongdoings. Similarly, if we incited chaos, but then feigned ignorance, no punishment followed.
It’s taken awhile, but I have learned to look up scriptures in context…
Acts 17:30 is a verse often misquoted.
“God winks at the ignorant!” preachers sometimes tell new believers.
“In order to sin you have to know the law.”
“Ignorance is bliss” etc. etc.
The verse often used for this teaching is actually taken out of context, and often leads to some misunderstandings about God altogether.
When I was a child I believed so strongly that God winked at the ignorant, that I didn’t want to learn new things because if I didn’t know it, I didn’t have to ‘do it’.
This false belief that God ignores our sins as long as we don’t know we’re sinning is problematic. It’s as if we go to the community pool and plug our ears while the lifeguard reads the rules. It’s as if we continue swimming despite the whistle blowing. We’re in too deep water but ignore the signs that say so.
Paul Standing with the Areopagus
The very overlooked context of Acts 17 explains what Paul meant and why he spoke this to the people.
You see, Paul travels all over to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ following His death, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven. During this mission work, he encounters the Areopagus people who worship idols of exanimate gods. These people do as they wish because their unseeing, unknowing gods have no clue what they do!
He teaches the people about the Living God, who (compared with their gods of silver and gold) is not ignorant to the ways they’ve been living. On the contrary, He sees all.
The scripture so widely quoted “God winks at the ignorant” goes on to say “now he commands all men everywhere to repent.”
Both of these truths are found in the same verse–Acts 17:30, ESV.
God winked at the ignorance of those who created and formed a god of their own imagination, but once they knew of the Living God, Paul says He required obedience and repentance. Why? Because we are His offspring. He is King. We have no say in the rulebook. God is almighty.
The truth of the matter is this: if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments (John 14:15).
And what’s more, if we know Him we’ll love Him (1 John 4:8).
If we know Him we cannot remain ignorant to His character and His law. This would be like marrying a stranger and then refusing to get to know them. Our own ignorance would ruin our relationship.
I used to think it was funny (even freeing) to remain ignorant. Now I know this to be a gross misunderstanding.
To understand God is to understand that He is not a dumb gold or silver idol. He is the opposite of ignorant. He designed you and me to be brilliant, fantastic, resourceful, and wise. He did not design us to be ignorant.