Summary: First Baptist Church of Gaithersburg, MD: We avoid too much information because we know we will have to respond. Some escape into private piety; some escape from knowing themselves. But true bliss comes from knowing how to invest in Kingdom concerns.
You can buy it anywhere in Pennsylvania Dutch country – a banner, an apron, a towel, anything really – and it proclaims, in pidgin German, “Ve get too soon oldt und too late schmart”. Your preacher this morning is a walking example of that ancient truth. Too soon oldt und too late schmart. The limitations of age are depressing, and the depths of ignorance are astounding. And if you think that getting older is all fun and games, then you will also no doubt think that ignorance is bliss. My aim today is to demonstrate that ignorance is emphatically not bliss!
The deacons’ meeting was just about finished. Committees had reported, pastoral care cases had been discussed, the obligatory old and new business items had been reviewed. Once more the deacons of Takoma Park Baptist Church had met in an orderly fashion and had done their work with integrity and dignity. The chairman, just before he invited us to close in prayer, asked, “Does anyone have anything else to bring up?” And quick as a flash, one deacon spoke out: “The toilet tissue in the Ladies’ Room is too rough.” We all stared at her, and she repeated it. “I wish somebody would do something about the toilet tissue in the Ladies’ Room; it’s too rough.” Nervous giggles around the room. The chairman looked at me as if to say, “Pastor, what am I supposed to do with this?” Our speaker spoke a third time: “What I mean is, when you use the toilet tissue ….” That’s as far as she got. The chairman announced, in a loud voice, “Too much information,” and informed her that this was not a matter for the deacons, thank you very much. But she was not deterred. Once again she launched into her complaint. “I don’t know who buys the supplies. I thought I’d tell the deacons. You see, it’s too rough when ….” I never saw a quicker dismissal of any meeting in a Baptist church. With a wave of his hand, brother chairman intoned, “Too much information. Let us pray.”
Now that I have your attention, and if I can get your minds out of the gutter, what was going on here? Why didn’t the deacon chairman want to hear that complaint? What did he mean, “too much information”? He meant that he was happier not knowing about a problem. He meant that there are times when knowing something makes you unhappy. The saying goes that ignorance is bliss. That suggests that we are happier if we do not know the problems out there, lest we be overwhelmed with trying to solve them. So spare us “too much information.”
Wasn’t it Sting who sang, “Too much information running through my brain,
Too much information driving me insane. I’ve seen the whole world six times over, Sea of Japan to the Cliffs of Dover, Overkill, overview, Over my dead body.” You can be overwhelmed with too much information; ignorance is bliss.
So we protect people by keeping them ignorant. We sense they can’t handle all there is to know. We protect small children from the ugly realities of crime and war and death because we think it’s too soon for them to know about these things. In fact, the very phrase, “Ignorance is bliss” comes from a Thomas Gray poem in which he thinks about children playing on the fields of Eton College, unaware of all the world’s issues. “Thought would destroy their paradise. No more … where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise.” We protect children.
And we protect the elderly from upsetting truths. I’ve had people ask me not to disclose unhappy information to frail elderly folks. “Let’s not tell Grandpa that his brother has died; he couldn’t take that.” One day I was visiting one of my elderly church members in hospice care. She knew what was happening; she understood that it was unlikely she would come out of that place alive. But she had a special concern: “What about my little dog? What’s going to become of my little dog?” She and her dog had grown old together; but that animal could barely even walk. I just could not tell her what I knew – that her nephew had taken the dog to the vet for euthanasia. I protected her, I managed her pain: I wanted her to be blissfully ignorant.
However, sooner or later even those who are protected from the facts do have to face reality. Sooner or later truth comes out, and there will be pain. Eventually, despite the siren songs, we discover that ignorance is not bliss. The psalmist was pretty blunt about this: “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The dullard cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this.” It is not always a happy thing to be ignorant. “The dullard cannot know, the stupid cannot understand.” Ignorance is bliss? NOT! Not so! NOT!