Does this ever happen to you? Someone makes a statement that you disagree with, and your brain immediately stops processing what they are saying, as it prepares (or just reacts with) a fitting rebuttal. Or, maybe you hear an incorrect statement, and – like an itch that you have to scratch – you have no choice but to refute it, whether with facts or a quick online search.
It’s no secret that people say a lot of things that aren’t true. I’ve had the regret of finding out that a story I re-told in the past was just an urban legend, or that I had previously taught something incorrectly. Other times, there is a combination of unintentional or willful ignorance that blocks human beings from acknowledging the facts. Satan is all about lies and distortions of the truth. (These latter half-truths are also lies, but often look nicer than outright lies…at least at first.)
Years ago, a manager told me something insightful, though. He said that, “People aren’t in the business of making bad decisions.” His point was that even when we see someone make a choice that seems completely irrational to us, that person probably had a reason for doing so. I can attest to this: there are many bad decisions that I have made in my life, believing that they were the best thing at the time. However, without all of the facts, and a clear view of the truth, well-meaning actions can have disastrous results.
Consider these examples of people who promoted something that was later found to be inaccurate or incomplete:
Saul’s1 persecution of believers was extremely sincere and well-meaning. He was legitimately protecting a belief system that was, in fact, traceable back to that which was commissioned by God. Although the Pharisaical traditions that he was taught had sometimes deviated from God’s original instructions, the idea of protecting the integrity of the Jewish faith was not inherently wrong. The problem was that Saul missed the fact that God had fulfilled the original phase of His plan and brought in the next covenant (through Jesus). As a result, Saul was fighting what he thought he was protecting.
Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.
You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.
Galatians 1:11-14 NLT
For that matter, we may give Pharisees a bad reputation, but underlying all of those rules and regulations was (for some, at least) an attempt to truly preserve, protect, and propagate the behavior that God had asked His people to follow. For all of their collisions with Jesus and His disciples, the principles of the Pharisaical tradition were meant to preserve a Jewish culture and faith. As has been suggested, some Pharisees may have even believed that God would return them to favor (rather than being oppressed by other nations) if they returned to a more strict form of obedience. This group sometimes took this principle too far, missing the points that Jesus made about the purpose of the Law and the heart of man, but at least some of them were likely genuine in their goal.
The speaker Apollos seems to have been pretty earnest in talking about Jesus, but his gospel was incomplete (Acts 18:24-26). To be clear, I don’t think that we need to have a Masters of Divinity degree to tell other people about Jesus, but there is always more that we can learn.
Even Job’s friends may have genuinely been trying to get him to repent. We may perceive them as judgmental and condemning (and they were), but when you believe [incorrectly] that personal suffering only comes from one’s own sin, their behavior is a logical result. In fact, since they appeared to have believed this fallacy (of sin and suffering having a simple one-to-one relationship for each person), they were being better friends if they challenged Job to repent, compared to if they had stayed home or let Job suffer.
If people like these (including very religious, spiritual people) did the wrong things for reasons that they believed to be correct, what might be motivating others in the world around us, today? Let’s ponder that, and talk about some possible answers tomorrow.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- Saul was also named Paul. I used to think (and probably taught others) that his name changed when he was converted, but further study suggests that he had both of these names, all along. There’s an example of sincerely teaching what that I thought was correct, but which proved to be otherwise. ↩