Humility and knowledge: What do I actually know?

Humility, a term from a bygone era? What is it, do I need it and what do I actually know?

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I had an interesting phone call a few weeks ago. It was the chairman of an association where I am still a member and we first talked about the future of the association. Later we got into more general topics and it turned out that my conversation partner didn't want to be vaccinated against Corona. He also thought Merkel was stupid because she opened the borders for refugees in 2015 and he was also of the opinion that wind turbines would shred birds.

I swallowed a few times during the conversation because I see these three points quite differently, which I was also able to state objectively.

However, I didn't want to stay in my opinion bubble anyway and besides, I liked the guy and so we talked on the phone for almost an hour.

In retrospect, I had to think about the conversation even more often. Our society sometimes seems divided, especially on issues like climate change, corona and asylum seekers.

Interestingly, in my observation, climate scepticism, vaccination scepticism and asylum scepticism often occur together and the AfD tries to find its voters precisely in this group of people.

I don't know whether the person I spoke to on the phone is an AfD sympathiser. But it must still be possible to understand each other well, even if opinions differ. But you must not bend yourself in the process.

And if I were to see him again at any club meeting, I would be happy to talk to him again. As I said, regardless of some of his views, I found him nice.

But if you look at the topic of "wind energy", for example, from the topics mentioned, and read the Wikipedia article "Wind turbine", for example, where the risks and problems of wind turbines are also described, then you can pretty much see that the expression "bird shredding" for wind turbines is actually silly stuff. There are isolated situations where wind turbines should be shut down at certain times in some places because certain bird species fly frequently then and there is a higher risk of bird strikes.

A Canadian study has determined that the number of birds killed by wind turbines is between 20,000 and 28,300, while the number killed by human activity is 270 million, by cats 200 million and by collision with buildings 25 million.

I have been harping on about wind power because I want to make it clear that many problems are very complicated and have to be looked at in a very differentiated way. Simple slogans such as "bird shredder" simply do not do justice to the factual issues.

Simple slogans and statements for complex issues, that sometimes happens with Christians too.


Christians prone to simple explanations?

The term "conspiracy theory" also plays a role here, which I don't really like, but somehow it fits in with most of the statements I have heard from some Christian acquaintances:

These were all statements by Christians. What always upsets me the most is the emphasis on not being afraid: "I'm not afraid!!!".

So, on the one hand, although fear is a bad counsellor, it is actually something quite normal. Luther writes this so beautifully in John 16:33b; LUT:

In the world you are afraid; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

And I believe that this is something we encounter again and again. And Jesus' comfort is something we also have to visualise and experience anew again and again.

Yes, how typical are such statements for Christians, how prone are Christians to simplistic statements, to conspiracy theories?

So, on the one hand, it must be stated that we Christians have quasi secret knowledge, e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:21; NL

Although the world is imbued with the wisdom of God, it could not find Him through its wisdom. God has used a message that seems nonsensical to save all who believe it.

Since we Christians are in the minority, at least in most parts of the world, this verse also means that the vast majority think the gospel is nonsense and it is closed to that vast majority.

We Christians know that the Gospel is true and of course we don't want it to remain secret. But for many people, they do not understand the mystery of the Gospel, or do not want to understand it.

Now, as a Christian, one could be seduced into simply accepting other statements by Christians as true, even though they could be nonsense.

I think we have to be quite humble here. There are actually only a few really true statements behind which we cannot fall back:

In my opinion, there is not much more unambiguous truth. On all other statements and issues, we must be extremely humble.

We don't really know anything. With so many issues, all we can do is gather information, exchange ideas and try to form an opinion in a defensive, humble way.

Let's take the statement: Corona is harmless. What is the basis for this? The majority of scientists are not of this opinion. But then there are very strange preachers who somehow link Corona with the end times and there are also Christians who believe this. Or statements like that the vaccine has not been tested long enough. I studied biology with a focus on microbiology as a minor subject at university, but I would never dare to make such a statement, I don't know anything about it.

Other statements, such as the change in genetic material through mRNA vaccine, I can already judge as nonsense, at least after refreshing my buried university knowledge with the Wikipedia article on mRNA.

I can't think of anything more to say about some of the statements. One statement I heard, though not from a Christian, was from a woman who shouted to her boyfriend: "Don't get vaccinated with AstraZeneca, otherwise you'll become infertile." I'm out of there.

We believe a lot in everyday life. For example, we drive cars over bridges and trust that the engineers and construction workers have not made any mistakes during construction or maintenance. And yet a bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy, in 2018.

Doubting and worrying is fine, but in a way that humbly takes into account one's own lack of knowledge.

But I simply assume that the majority of us Christians do the same. That would at least correspond to my personal experience.

Encounters with people who think differently

Let's go back to the conversation I described in the introduction. A certain division in society can already be noticed, especially on the topics of climate change, immigration and Corona.

But there are also other issues that divide. Personally, I am annoyed by linguistic gendering, with asterisks or colons. I have now installed a plug-in for my browser that filters out the gender wording from web pages. It doesn't work on mobile devices yet, but mostly I surf on my computer. It's a simple solution for me, but is it right?

We should be careful not to trap ourselves in bubbles of opinion. We have to deal with issues with humility. And in doing so, we must also learn to endure conflicts of content.

Another example from politics: Personally, I think climate change is a problem and I think we should switch to renewable energies even faster than before: More wind turbines, more solar roofs, more decentralised energy production. Politically, I would probably be pretty close to the Greens on this point. On the other hand, there are loud voices among the Greens who want to completely liberalise abortion. That would not work for me at all. That's why I couldn't feel politically comfortable in a Green bubble.

But I would like to keep this differentiated view of issues.

You will probably also find reasonable points in the AfD programme, but the majority of the points are not acceptable to me. I will definitely not vote AfD.

But I think it's important to know why you think something is good and why you don't, and to be aware of your own incomplete knowledge. This is the humility that I keep coming back to in this sermon.

This is especially true when you enter into an exchange with people who think differently, i.e. when you leave your bubble of opinion. You don't have to bend, but you must at least understand what the other person thinks and ideally be able to comprehend how they arrive at it.

An example of this from Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-21; NL

19 To the Jews I have become one of them, that I may win them to Christ. With those who keep the law, I behave in the same way - although I am not under the law - so that I may win them for Christ. 21 When I am with gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I adapt myself to them as much as possible in order to win them for Christ. However, I do not disregard God's law in doing so, but obey the law I have from Christ. 22 When I am with the weak, I become like a weak person with them in order to win them for Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with all people in order to win at least some of them for Christ.

On the one hand, Paul adapts to people as much as possible. And this naturally includes understanding what moves a person, what he thinks. But Paul does not bend, he emphasises that he still belongs to Christ. And he did not conceal this, because otherwise he would not have been able to win anyone for Jesus.

I find this verse very beautifully formulated in this translation: "finding common ground", a common basis for conversation. One exchanges ideas with people, takes them seriously as a person, without concealing different opinions. In this way you build a relationship and maybe or hopefully these interlocutors also become curious about this Jesus, who hopefully shapes our lives in some way.

Leaving your own opinion bubble also means leaving your own comfort zone. Of course, that is not easy. It is much nicer to exchange ideas with like-minded people.

But for one's own further development it is positive to face other opinions, even if they may seem rather crude. And in addition, there may also be opportunities to somehow point new people to Jesus.

What about people who think and do real crap?

Jesus encounters people who act reprehensibly

Jesus comes to my mind as an example, who got on well with tax collectors.

It is important to remember that tax collectors were for the most part corrupt officials. They were there to serve the state and the citizen and many of them enriched themselves from the citizens. Jesus, of course, did not approve of their actions, but he still had fellowship with them, e.g. in Matthew 9:10; NGÜ:

10 Later, Jesus was a guest in the house of 'Matthew'. Many tax collectors and other people who were considered sinners had come and shared the meal with him and his disciples.

And some tax collectors changed their lives through the encounter with Jesus, Matthew even became one of his disciples.

Would Jesus go to a right-wing pub today, for example, to talk to the people there? Most likely.

Probably the same thing would happen to him as in Matthew 11:19; where Jesus was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He would then be called a friend of the right after talking to neo-Nazis.

Now such comparisons are also difficult. We would certainly consider a right-wing perpetrator of violence who, for example, sets fire to a shelter for asylum seekers to be "worse" than a corrupt civil servant. A right-thinking person who pays his taxes and abides by the law, but spreads right-wing slogans, is not as bad financially as a corrupt civil servant who enriches himself at the expense of the general public.

We quickly realise that such comparisons lead nowhere and make no sense.

Years ago I was at a regional association meeting of the Rhineland regional association and a guest speaker spoke there about neo-Nazis. A Protestant congregation somewhere in the Ruhr area explicitly excluded neo-Nazis from their church festival.

This discussion arose: How would Jesus have acted?

It remains difficult, of course, especially if neo-Nazis appear threatening, which is not uncommon. What about other visitors to the church festival, e.g. people with foreign roots?

I don't think there is a panacea here, but you have to struggle for the right decision in each individual case. And here, too, a certain humility is called for, because you cannot be sure whether you would not be open to such thoughts in a different environment.

Incidentally, Jesus was addressed several times to this fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, e.g. also in Matthew 9:11,12; NGÜ

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to the disciples, "How can your Master eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 Jesus heard this and replied, "It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.

Sinners, and we are among them, are on the one hand responsible for their own sins, but are also somehow sick and need the doctor Jesus.

And sinners often enough also think bad thoughts and also commit bad deeds. And of course right-wing extremist thoughts are also bad thoughts and often also produce bad deeds. And these people also need Jesus.

But I am not only concerned with right-wing extremists, but generally with people with strange or perhaps even harmful ideas. We will also encounter such people and perhaps get the opportunity to point to Jesus.

And if any of you do not know how to do this, you may ask God for this wisdom. This is what it says in James 1:5.

And that applies to all conversations, of course.


I summarise.