Long, long ago in a kingdom far, far away (well okay, maybe 15 years ago in Custer, SD, which is at least an hour’s drive from here, and that IS far, far away) I heard a sermon that I still remember. Now that doesn’t happen very often, and to tell the truth, I only remember one little bit of that fateful sermon. The preacher, Joel Ziolkowsky, stood up and he said, “I am wrong.” Now if memorable sermons are rare, that sort of statement from a preacher, in the pulpit, is very nearly non-existent. No wonder I remember it!
Joel, by the way, was and still is a good friend of mine, and he has a great sense of self-deprecating humor (as many preachers do), and he still doesn’t believe in the existence of the internet, so I don’t think I’ll offend him by that remark about preachers. Probably . . .
There wouldn’t be any point in a preacher getting up and preaching something he knew to be false . . . well, let me rephrase that . . . I mean the sort of preacher who still does believe in the God who is the rewarder and also the chastiser of His children. Most preachers want to preach true things.
Nobody likes to be wrong. Some of us would rather be wrong and thought to be right, though, sooner than change our minds about anything we consider important. We’re all like that a little bit. Lately I’ve had to learn that I was wrong about a LOT of things, in order to stop being wrong about them. And of course that entails changing my mind and admitting to people, “You know that thing I said was right? Uh . . . well, turns out I was wrong. That is definitely a flesh killer, which is a good thing in so many ways, though nearly always unpleasant.
But back to my friend Joel. He said, “I’m wrong about many, many things. But I don’t know what they are. If I knew, I’d change my mind and then I would be right.” Wow! It took me a little while to digest that. “Huh?” Fortunately for me, he said it several times, slowly. I think I may have even asked him afterward, “What did you mean by that again?” (I might be wrong about that, though.)
In case anyone out there is as slow as I was, I’ll ‘splain it for you. We are not perfect and mature in the Lord quite yet, and though we do try to be correct in the things we think and believe (not just about doctrine and theology, but about everything in life), we are often mistaken. We’re not wrong on purpose — we just have inaccurate understanding about so many things. And sometimes we’re right, as far as it goes, but our understanding is incomplete.
There’s no shame in being wrong. The shame comes when you can’t believe in the possibility of YOUR being wrong. Because you ARE wrong; so am I; about so many things. Some things, I grant, are core doctrine. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of which I am chief (that’s Paul saying that, not me btw, though I might be a close second). Other things are NOT core doctrines, and yes we might be wrong about those things, so it’s good to keep a humble and a teachable attitude.
After all, the important thing isn’t to be SEEN to be right, but rather to BE right. And in order to do that, we have to be willing to admit the possibility that we might be wrong. Thanks, Joel! Great sermon — changed my life!