Author: Thomas White | Editorial Staff, Living Church of God
If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the Church of God, so you’ve heard sermons before. You’ve probably heard quite a few Bible studies, too, like the one Mr. Mario Hernandez gave for the most recent Assembly, in which he powerfully emphasized the command and the need for us to read from God’s word every morning and every evening.
Messages like that, instructional ones that point out things required of us, are given for what should be an obvious reason: Not everybody knows about every requirement. Case in point, I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about how we shouldn’t eat one another, because that’s common knowledge—the world at large pretty much agrees that if I’m hungry, you’re not an option. But messages about not hating one another, for example, will always be needed, because although that’s required of us too, not everyone knows it—it’s a bit easier to forget than the law against cannibalism.
All humans are ignorant. We’re not to try to be, but it doesn’t make much sense to deny the fact that every one of us simply doesn’t know a lot of stuff, including a lot that’s biblical. The Bible’s not exactly light beach reading, and we wouldn’t need ministers if we could all just go through it and internalize everything we’ll ever need to know.
Yet how many of us, after hearing an enlightening message of instruction, feel terrible about having not known something? Maybe we haven’t thought to read the Bible every morning and evening. Maybe it never occurred to us that we need to keep a third tithe. Maybe it never crossed our minds that a daily part of our vocabulary might be a word we really shouldn’t say.
We didn’t know. But now that we do, what should our reaction be? For some, the first reaction is shame, as though they’re somehow stupid for not having made these connections themselves. Certainly, a godly sorrow is appropriate, because a sin committed in ignorance is still a sin, but if we sincerely ask God for forgiveness and determine to change whatever it is we’ve been doing or not doing, what’s the use of guilt-tripping ourselves over what, until recently, we had no idea was a problem?
Nineveh’s a good example of the right reaction. When it was made abundantly clear that major change was essential, the king of Nineveh didn’t wallow in guilt and think, “Well, we’ve been seriously missing something, so, I guess we’re terrible people who deserve whatever we have coming to us.” His response was almost the opposite—“let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:8-9).
What Defines Us
Nineveh accepted that they’d been ignorant of something important, and they determined to change. No “I can’t believe I didn’t know, I’m so stupid and awful”—just a desire to make the most out of what they now knew, and even, in their own way, an understanding that God is a merciful rewarder of heartfelt repentance.
So, if we hear a message that makes us aware of something wrong we’ve been doing, or something right we haven’t been doing, Nineveh might be a good place for our thoughts to go. God’s a whole lot more interested in our future than He is in our past, so we’re not defined by our ignorant mistakes—we’re defined by what we do about them.