THE IGNORANCE OF THE EXPERT

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HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

The stone which the builders refused has become the headstone of the corner. This is the Lord‘s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.Psalm 118:22-23

Had it been others who had rejected this stone, there would be no reason for surprise. The man in the street can scarcely be expected to be an authority on stones. If my watch gets out of order, I would never dream of taking it to the shoemaker. If I did and he made a mess of it, I would have only myself to blame. I naturally take it to the watchmaker who has been studying watches since he was first apprenticed and who, in this particular business, is an expert.

The notable thing is that these builders who refused this stone were all experts. Stones were (if I might put it so) their bread. Daily they handled nothing else but stones. They were supposed to know everything about them. And yet these experts–these carefully trained specialists–had the witness of their folly facing them every time they passed the finished Temple. There, high up in the chief place of honour, was a stone they had condemned as useless. It was not hidden deep in the foundations. It was exalted so that every eye could see it. Someone had come along and had detected what none of the trained specialists had found–and the stone was now the headstone of the corner. Thus we see an important fact that specialists can be very blind occasionally. Experts, who give their nights and days to things, may sometimes miss the thing that matters most. All which, to dull, unlearned folk, is often so exceedingly astonished that they can only say, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

An Expert May Miss All That Matters

That ignorance of the expert is one of the common facts of life. It’s a common saying that the more one knows about a thing, the more he knows that he doesn’t know. I think it is the Sadhu Sundar Singh who tells of an Indian friend of his who was an expert botanist. He could tell you all about the daffodil and give you an exact description of it. Yet when daffodils were brought to him as a gift once, he entirely failed to recognize them. He had never seen them growing in their beauty. That man was an accomplished botanist; he was an expert in his chosen science; he had mastered the orders and the general and was an authority on habitats. Yet of the one thing that really matters in the daffodil springing up from our wintry soil, he was more ignorant than any American girl.

So men may know the planetary movements and never have felt the wonder of the stars. They may have mastered all the laws of rhythm, yet never been haunted by the spell of poetry. I am not disparaging the expert any more than I would the grammarian of Browning. Advancing knowledge always needs the specialist, and our indebtedness to him is boundless. I only wish to suggest that not infrequently the expert loses the forest in the trees, and somehow misses all that really matters.

The Power of the Book

I venture to think that, with peculiar force, this applies to the study of the Bible. Sometimes those who know most about the Bible know least of the living power of the Book. It would be impossible to put into words our debt to the exact study of the Bible. To multitudes, it is a new book altogether as the result of a sane and sober criticism. Yet there are times when one profoundly feels how a man may be an expert in the Scriptures and yet miss the only things that really matter. One may discuss the problem of the Pentateuch, and do it with all the learning of the specialist; one may have mastered all that can be known of the relation of the Synoptic Gospels, and yet the Bible, the living word of God in its convicting and transforming power, may remain unto his heart as a sealed book. Sometimes there is an ignorance in experts far deeper than the ignorance of untrained people. They are like the Sadhu’s Indian botanist who failed to recognize the daffodil. And all the time the poet and the child, ignorant of the elements of botany, may be enthralled and conquered by its loveliness.

There is something more needed by the Bible than any exactitude of knowledge. The Bible only yields its inmost secret when deep begins calling unto deep. That is why some poor unlettered woman may have a far truer grasp of what the Bible is that the specialist who is versed in all its problems. It has found her and made her glad. To her, it is a word to rest on. It has proved itself a light unto her path and never fails her in an hour of need. And all this is so wonderful to her that like the psalmist, she can only say, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

Christ Rejected by the Experts

We see the same fact with the fullest clearness when we recall how Jesus was rejected. “He came unto His own,” says John, “and His own received Him not.” Now had the common folk alone rejected Him, we could scarcely have wondered at their doing so. For the common folk were looking for a king, and Jesus was not their idea of a king. The strange thing is that Jesus was rejected not by the common folk, but by the Pharisees–and the Pharisees were Messianic experts. They were specialists in the doctrine of Messiah. They were considered as knowing everything about Him. Night and day they had studied the Old Testament with a zeal that was little short of heroism. Yet when Messiah came they failed to recognize Him though they had given many a learned lecture on Him, just as the Sadhu’s learned Indian friend failed to recognize the daffodil.

The stone was not rejected by the passers-by. The stone was rejected by the builders–by the experts, the specialists in stones, the men who were held to know everything about them. When our Lord selected that great saying and deliberately applied it to Himself (Mark 12:10), was He not sounding a warning down the ages that sometimes the experts may be wrong?

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