“There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Our life on earth and in eternity is dependent on choices we make. For us to rely on human wisdom is spiritual suicide: “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Man without God is like a lost traveler without GPS (or a map, for us older, less-tech folks). Therefore, we can't trust our “gut” and choose what “seems right”. Nonetheless, that appears to be how many determine religious beliefs and practices. This proverb is a divine warning against such.
There Is A Way
Before considering the obvious caution this verse teaches regarding what “seems right”, let's first reflect upon some positive's that go without saying (but we want to say them anyway).
There is a way - because there is a God. Without God we would not be here: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth … gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth … that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him… for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-28). Because of God, we exist.
There is a way - because man is a rational being. We are created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), and elevated above all earth's animal kingdom. Animals are directed by impulses of natural instinct, but man exists as a rational being in order to intimately walk with God. In addition, Also, man's high estate is also realized in his power as a free moral agent to choose right from wrong: “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). We can investigate evidence, reason upon its validity and draw logical conclusions: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord … If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20). Man's sinful choices attest to the reality of Satan, who's untiring mission is to separate man from God. He introduced sin into the world through the tempting Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-7; John 8:44). Each new generation of man must deal with the reality and curse of sin in his/her life (Romans 3:23). It is by humanity's sinful choices (not atheistic evolution), that has lowered man generally to a level of animalistic behavior (cf. Romans 1:24-32). With great blessings come great responsibility.
There is a way - because God has spoken to man through his word of truth, the Bible: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God's word is understandable to all who will study it honestly and diligently (Ephesians 3:3-4; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:15). By it, right and wrong (Proverbs 8:6, 9; Ephesians 6:1), and good and bad (Proverbs 2:9; 2 Corinthians 5:10), are clearly defined. Therefore man can discern and choose his “way” accordingly (Psalm 119:104-105).
A Way That Seems Right
God's word teaches us right from wrong, however, equally necessary to man's reception of divine truth is the condition of his heart (the inner man – his intellect, emotions, will, conscience). Man's heart is the springboard for all conduct, good and bad; we all live life from the inside out. That why God instructs man to: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Again, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It is within man's heart that he “seems”.
Jesus teaches that only “honest and good” hearts are receptive to God's word (Luke 8:15). Unfortunately little attention seems given to this truth in modern religious thought. One reason is the prevalence of Calvinistic doctrine in religious thought. Doctrines like “inherited depravity”, “unconditional election” and “irresistible grace” are perversions of truth which basically state that God alone determines one's salvation without man's choice being exercised toward that end. One problem with this is the reality that everyone will not be saved. If God is totally responsible for whose saved, he is totally responsible for whose lost. The conclusion is blasphemous toward God, declaring he is responsible for those lost, Also, he would be guilty of showing partiality regarding who he saves and who he doesn't save.
Scripture clearly teaches that God doesn't wish any to be lost (2 Peter 3:9; cf. John 3:16), nor does he show partiality to man (Acts 10:34-35). While Calvinists insists that God's irresistible power must be exerted on the sinner's heart, the Bible says that man's salvation is dependent on his heart being open and receptive to truth. Quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10, Jesus speaks to the reality of many human hearts lacking moral and spiritual perception: “For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). But what made their hearts that way? Again hear Jesus' words: “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires” (John 8:43-44). Remember, man has power to choose.
Those without honest and good hearts (Luke 8:15), possess those which are dishonest and bad - filled with prejudice, arrogance, lust, hatred, error, deception, presumption and impurity. This heart will be unreceptive and hardened toward God's truth: “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 11:20). Such evil hearts are attributed to Satan's influence through lust and pride. Jesus' parable of the sower speaks of the good seed (God's word) sown on the hardened path trodden by man, representing “those who have heard, then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).
It is from the carnal heart, motivated by lust and pride instead of reverence toward God and his truth, that a way is chosen because it “seem right”. By such many are deceived: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Proverbs 26:16). Such a heart is difficult to reason with.
The End Is The Way of Death
The significance of the way we choose is in knowing what's at the end. Jesus teaches there are two ways man can choose in life, and clearly shows us where they will lead (Matthew 7:13-14). Thus, the way we choose will determine the eternal destiny of our soul: “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil. He who keeps his way preserves his soul” (Proverbs 16:17, NKJV). In like manner, the way man presumptuously chooses is the way of death, perhaps physical death but most certainly spiritual death: “But as the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). This eternal spiritual death is man's separation from God.
May we do our best to “rightly handle” God's word and seek to understand His message to man (2 Timothy 2:15). Only then will we be able to choose the proper path and resist the way that merely seems right.
By Dan Richardson
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