The Brilliance of Ignorance

By this title, I do not align myself with Thomas Gray(1), who wrote, “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Generally, this phrase is interpreted to mean that it is better for one to remain unaware of matters or circumstances that, if known, would provoke worry and woe.

Rather, I equate brilliance with wisdom. For as much as I think I know, it is better, indeed, best for me, so to be open to the revelation of new, deeper, greater knowledge, to remain aware of how much I do not know.

To put this thought another way, I reflect on the words of a favorite hymn, Immortal, invisible, God only wise; specifically, the fourth verse:

Thou reignest in glory, Thou rulest in light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
all laud we would render, O help us to see:
‘tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.(1)

light & clouds

Reading and reflecting on that last line, ‘tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee, I find it wondrous to contemplate the idea that God, as Purest Light, is either too bright for the human eye to behold or, in my mind, even more deliciously incomprehensible, that God, as Purest Light, is so bright that light, as we humans know and experience it, is as darkness, therefore, a veil that conceals God.

Thus, this thought:

Truly (or so I think and believe),
the light of my human experience
(all that I know)
is veiled by the shadow of all human existence
(all that can be known).
Thus, no matter the e’er-tempting arrogant breadth of my knowledge of things that are,
if honesty and humility I value as virtues,
then I need alway confess the boundless depth of my ignorance of things I know not.

(1) Thomas Gray (1716-1771), English poet, letter-writer, and classical scholar. The quoted words are taken from his poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742).
(2) Immortal, invisible, God only wise (1867); words by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908), Scottish minister, author, hymnist, and poet.

2 thoughts on “The Brilliance of Ignorance

  1. Ellen R Cardwell June 20, 2019 — 12:36 pm

    I have also pondered on this thought and specifically these exact lines from Immortal Invisible. I too wonder if God’s light is too bright to look at directly, as it would be in a solar eclipse, or if we see God in multicolored muted forms as in an Arora Borealis….or if it’s not for us to see either clearly or directly but rather to work on pondering, reflecting and discerning. I don’t know. Your thoughts, Paul, lead me even deeper into the mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dearest Ellen, as I read and reflect on your words, it occurs to me that to behold God who is Light is, proverbially-speaking, all of the above in regard to the possibilities you cite…and more. For God is inexhaustible mystery. My love with my gratitude


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