Of the three defenses examined in this series, this last one is perhaps the easiest to excuse. While “I didn’t mean it” says I know what I did wrong but I wasn’t paying attention. And, while “I was only joking” knows they are stepping over the line and sees no problem with it. This last excuse of “I didn’t know” is the most understandable and justifiable of the three.
Consider: Joey had just moved to Springdale, a small town on the edge of the prairie. One warm summer night he was skateboarding around the small downtown area. While practicing moves in the parking lot between McPherson’s Drugs and a defunct five and dime a police car drove by. Joey didn’t think much about it until the car pulled into the parking lot and a young officer stepped out. Joey rode up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Joey.”
“Where do you live?” the officer asked. Joey explained and the officer nodded. “Give me your skateboard, I’ll drop it off at your home,” the officer commanded.
Joey looked down and mumbled, “did I do something wrong?”
“Skateboarding is illegal downtown and on city streets. If I catch you again I’ll have to write you a ticket and confiscate your board. But tonight I’m giving you a break.”
“Sorry officer, I didn’t know,” Joey explained.
Joey didn’t know that a few years earlier the City Council passed a no skateboarding ordinance. Even though the Officer showed Joey mercy he didn’t have to. Joey broke the law and by rights could have been fined according to the law. God also recognizes our ignorance without violating His justice.
We began this series by looking at Leviticus 5. Several of the incidents given as examples acknowledge a person’s ignorance. For instance, “Or suppose you unknowingly touch something that makes a person unclean. When you realize what you have done, you must admit your guilt.” (Leviticus 5:3, NLT) The implication being that guilt is not realized until there is understanding. Some want to move the line to acceptance of guilt. In other words, I’m not guilty until I accept that I’m guilty. They think that as long as they can rationalize it, justify it, or excuse it there is no guilt. The result, of course, is that they rarely if ever admit being guilty of anything. God’s word maintains that guilt follows understanding, not our agreement with it. (Romans 4:15, 5:13) Not knowing does not mean that we didn’t sin or that we don’t suffer the consequences of that sin. We just don’t know or feel our guilt until we have understood that an action or word is a sin.
Think of it this way. Let’s say that I overstay my parking time on a city street. The parking police write a ticket and place it under my windshield wiper but it blows away before I see it. A little later I drive away. At that moment the city counts me as being guilty and that I owe the stated fine. However, if you ask me if I have any outstanding parking tickets I would reply, “no, of course not.” It’s not until the mailman delivers the notice informing me about an overdue ticket that I realize my guilt. It works that way in our walk with Jesus as well. Sometimes we immediately know that we have crossed the line, sometimes we don’t realize or understand our sin until weeks, months, or even years later.
The response of “I didn’t know” can be used rightly or wrongly. In our example, Joey stated it as a means of explanation but he did so with acceptance. That would be a right example. He wasn’t trying to get off or be excused, he was simply recognizing how he got into this predicament. “I didn’t know” can also be used wrongly. Instead of an explanation, it becomes a defense as in, “I’m not guilty because I didn’t know.” This defense maintains innocence due to ignorance. In that instance, it becomes just like “I didn’t mean to” and “I was only joking”; a failed attempt to shove the guilt of our sin to a dark corner and cover it with excuses. But God’s desire is for us to be clean with no dark corners or hidden guilt. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NASB95) And, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NASB95) Being clean is much better and easier than trying to keep track of all of my excuses, rationalizations, and justifications.