A Way That Seems Right

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 14:34

There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Proverbs 14:12, RSV

OUR WAY

The ancient proverb maintains, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Note that: “There is a way that seems right.” Whenever the tempter beguiles us, there is always subtlety involved. He doesn’t suggest to us straight out, “Do this evil thing.” He always makes the temptation appear pleasing, plausible, even good. He makes it seem to us like a right way to go; otherwise, why would we fall for it? That’s why the evil one is so successful in his designs. That’s why he’s called the “deceiver.” He can make evil look like good and wrong seem right.

The apostle Paul speaks of how the devil can transform himself into an “angel of light.” Instead of the destroyer that he is, he presents himself as a benevolent guide, inviting us to a shining path. He can even quote Scripture for his purpose as he slyly did in the temptations of Jesus. In the very moment that he solicits us toward evil, he seems to be appealing to everything noble. When we take the bait and follow his lead, it’s because we have become convinced, at least at some level, that he’s right.

The ancient proverb speaks of “a way that seems right to a man.” In a sense, there are many ways that fit that description. For example, there’s a way that seems right because it feels good. The popular song says dreamily: “It can’t be wrong because it feels so right.” The doctrine is that if we have pleasant emotions after doing something, it must be ethically sound.

I’ve had people tell me that with all seriousness. They were about to do something plainly forbidden in the commandments of God, but they seemed untroubled by those prohibitions. To them, what they were doing was perfectly justified, and they were sure that future outcomes would prove them right. They had a certain feeling about this course of action that it simply had to be OK. Nothing could dissuade them from that. What they felt good about was a way that seemed to them unquestionably right. It might fly in the face of God’s law; it might break the hearts of their loved ones, but they had a warm feeling about it, that it was the best thing to do.

There’s a way that seems right also because so many people are walking in it. I remember hearing somewhere long ago the affirmation that 40 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. That says it clearly. Whatever their nationality, if many, many people are doing something, who dares to question its rightness?

I remember clearly how published reports of sexual activity among young people were used in this way. The implied argument ran like this: if a high percentage of teenagers have had sexual intercourse before marriage, then that practice must be acceptable. On this view, it would be prudish and unrealistic to oppose it. Young people should, therefore, not be troubled by inhibitions. After all, do they think they are better than all the rest?

Or perhaps the statistics have to do with marital unfaithfulness. If it is true, the reasoning goes, that most men have sexual adventures outside marriage, why should anyone feel guilty about it? And if a growing number of wives do the same, adultery must not be so bad after all. What is practiced by the majority has a considerable weight of influence. Who wants to be out of step with the rest of the world?

Sometimes the appeal is not to the majority but to the experts. Dr. So and So, with several advanced degrees after his name, is quoted as saying that traditional morality is misguided. “There are no absolutes,” he maintains. “Morality is a relative matter. All of us have to decide for ourselves what is the good, the true, and the beautiful. There is no final standard by which anyone’s beliefs or behavior can be measured.” Now who can quarrel with that position, we wonder, if such a learned man has espoused it? He may not be an expert in this particular field, but his wisdom in other matters seems to flow imperceptibly into this realm also.

There are people judged brilliant who declare that the Bible is a collection of superstitions and all religion a hoax. And, because their credentials are impressive and their published works voluminous, we’re told, we certainly ought to listen to what they say. Aren’t ordinary folks like us gullible and deluded if we keep on believing something these famous scholars have long ago rejected? There is a way that seems right to many if it can be shown to have academia walking in it.

GOD’S WAY

What, if anything, makes a way right? Who can presume to say that any one way is better than another? The Bible comes at that question simply and directly. A course of action is right or wrong because God has declared it to be so, because it accords — or discords — with His nature and purpose. The biblical view is that God has built what is right into the very structure of this universe and fashioned human beings for it. Furthermore, He backs it up with His sanctions and rewards. When we’re doing what is right, we’re in tune with the whole cosmos and with the deepest realities of our own being. And because we believe through Christ that the God who ordains what is right is also unspeakably kind, we are sure that what He purposes is for our good always.

Look at the Ten Commandments in that light. It’s the height of folly to regard them as arbitrary rules, as though some capricious deity wanted merely to flaunt his authority and keep his creatures in line. The commandments are a gift of grace. God grants them as a precious boon to His covenant people. In His revealed will they can learn both how to please Him and how to live a genuinely human life. Enlightened by His commands and moved by His Spirit, they may walk all their days in a way that is both right and joyful, holy and healthful. That’s why the psalmist, in Psalm 119, cannot find words sufficient to express his gratitude for God’s law. “Oh, how love I thy law,” he says, “it is my meditation all the day…. In the way of thy testimonies I delight, as much as in all riches…. Incline my heart to thy testimonies and not to gain; turn my eyes from looking at vanities and give me life in thy ways…. I revere thy commandments which I love, and I will meditate on thy statutes.” For him the law of God is not burden but blessing, not bondage but freedom, not life-diminishing but rather joy-producing.

Here is the good news, friends, for you and me. Among all the deceiving ways, the shortcuts that lead nowhere, there is a true way, a way that leads to life. It’s a way of which we learn in the pages of the Bible, God’s revealed Word.

Shouldn’t that make us eager to search the Scriptures? John Wesley rhapsodizes on that theme. “There is a book that teaches me the way to heaven … oh, evermore give me this book!” Yes, and the way to heaven is a way that leads through the varied scenes and situations of this world and shows us how to walk there.

A NARROW WAY

Jesus describes it as a narrow way. Listen:

Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many, for the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

The way is narrow not because it is cramped and restricting, certainly not because it is meant to bar any who would seek it. It is narrow because it is singular, unrepeatable. There are many, many ways to be lost, but only one to be saved. Our minds and hearts can devise an infinite variety of ways to go wrong, but the right way is unique. It’s narrow in the sense that it concentrates life for us, and gives us steady direction.

According to Jesus, it takes some seeking to find this way and some effort to enter it. People don’t drift into the narrow way or get carried along into it with the crowd. Though we join a goodly company on God’s road, we embark on it as individuals.

The supreme message of the Bible about the right way takes a surprising turn. The way is more than divine commandments and revealed wisdom, more than duties and disciplines, more even than correct doctrines. The way, in the mystery of God’s purpose, turns out to be a Person. The One who talked about the narrow way that leads to life, the One who called men and women to follow Him along God’s path, made a marvelous declaration toward the end of His earthly life. Listen to the interchange He had with one of His disciples in the Upper Room:

You know the way where I am going. Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

Jesus doesn’t simply teach the way, show the way, and walk in it Himself. In a profound sense, He is the living Way. That self-description of Jesus became for believers a kind of summary of what the gospel was all about. The early Christians were referred to several times in the book of Acts as men and women who “belonged to the Way.” Wherever Christians went, people were stirred up about “the Way.” Some spoke evil of “the Way.” What’s being described in this phrase is a lifestyle, certainly; a community, beyond question. But the central, overpowering reality of the way is the living Lord Jesus Christ. He is the way believers follow, the One to whom they belong and in whom they walk.

Without self-consciousness, without a trace of reservation or apology, Jesus presented Himself as the only way. “I am the way,” He said, “no one comes to the Father except by me.” Again, this way is not exclusive but singular. There is room in it for everyone, but this is a way that rules out alternatives. No one, Jesus affirms, can reach the goal who does not pursue this God-given way.

The apostles heard this clearly and echoed it in their preaching. Here is Peter in the city of Jerusalem, saying to the very people who had crucified Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” One name, and one only. Peter declares for all the world to hear, that if we are to be saved at all, we must be saved by Jesus.

Listen to Paul: “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Or hear John, the beloved disciple:

This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life.

Christians who proclaim this one Savior are sometimes censured by their contemporaries. They’re accused of arrogance, of spiritual imperialism. “What right have you,” people demand of them, “to say that your religion is the only right one and that there is no other way?” The question should really be directed not to the Christian Church but to the Church’s Lord. His heralds simply pass along His message. They echo His claim. They bear faithful witness to the One who said, “I am the way; . . . I am the door . . . I am the resurrection and the life . . . Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

All the doctrines and duties of the Christian way cluster about the person of Jesus. In gratitude for His self-giving love, we give ourselves to God through Him in glad obedience. We listen to His Word; we set our feet upon His way. It may not always look attractive and those who walk in it may not invariably feel good. They may be at times in a decided minority. They may be bitterly spoken against. But they find themselves to be also in a way full of purpose, in communion with a Presence, in touch with a power. All the other ways which seem right to us, which become attractive because we resist God’s way, lead finally to death. But this, friends, this living Way, this mighty Savior, will surely and finally lead us home.

PRAYER: Father, deliver us all we pray from the ways that seem right to us but only lead to death, and point us to Jesus Christ, the one living Way. In His name we pray. Amen.