I was listening to an audio version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet while on a run this morning (courtesy of the Louisville Free Public Library), and heard this wonderful thought to ponder, especially here in the age of the internet and seemingly limitless information. I believe there is some wisdom here given the pressure to know everything about everything, and the apparent ability to do so with the click of a button, not to mention the amount of truly useless information in the world – much more useless than a knowledge of the Solar System.

The quote below is written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, as he describes his newfound friend, Sherlock Holmes.


His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

(accessed at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DoyScar.html)

The brand of pride that most often plagues my heart is one that spills over in the words, “Yeah, I know that.” Like one of the cool kids that wants everyone to know they saw that movie and heard that band long before they went mainstream, there is a sinful tendency in me to want others to be aware that I was already aware of whatever they are trying to make me aware of.

And it’s not just information, as if all I want is for everyone to think I’m smart (though I do). It can also surface when my wife kindly asks me to do something, and the first thing I say is, “Yeah, I was just getting ready to do that.” I want her to know how proactive and helpful I am. I want to get credit for choosing to complete the stated task even before I was asked.

And then this past Sunday evening at church, as I was thinking on these things, one of our elders helped to reveal another area where this pride crops up. Very often while listening to a sermon or participating in a group discussion around God’s word, my heart and mind are less concerned with learning and growing and more consumed with all of things people are saying that I believe I have already figured out. Rather than being teachable, I want people to think that I am learned.

So, what to do? As I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon, I have a few ideas. Maybe you’re in the same boat as me and these will prove helpful. One is to simply bite my tongue. Why do I need to let everyone know what I know? There are times to justify ourselves or reveal knowledge we have, but there are plenty of times when it is completely unnecessary. So I want to discern when it is necessary or helpful and when it is pride. Help me, Holy Spirit!

Another weapon against this species of pride that I’ve been thinking through is to seek out opportunities to say, “I didn’t know that.” How pride-killing it is to point out someone else’s keen insight, to rejoice at some new knowledge you’ve received from a friend, or to simply say, “You just used a vocabulary word that I have never heard of – what does insipid mean?” So when someone in conversation says, “You probably already know this,” and follows those words with something I was previously oblivious to, I want to be quick to say, “I didn’t know that.”

And when you and I think we know it all, it is helpful to consider the All-knowing God. To remember that he knows more about the hairs on my own head than I do. To meditate on the staggering truth that he can say to every piece of information revealed in the world, not to mention those things hidden beyond the scope of human knowledge, “Yeah, I know that.” Nothing kills pride like staring long at the majesty of God.

Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite. (Ps. 147:5)

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4)

So may we pray with Hannah the words of 1 Samuel 2:2-3:

There is no one holy like the LORD,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.