There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.
Someone once asked me, “If I do something when I don’t really feel like that is what I want to do, am I not being a hypocrite?” I had not anticipated that question, but it was a great one. Depending on what the intent of the question really was, there are a number of ways to answer. However, at that moment I felt the Lord gave me a response that was not my own: “It all depends on who you want to be loyal to”. I went on to explain that if you want to be loyal to the Flesh, the values of the world, and the influence of Satan, then acting upon how you feel at that moment may be complete loyalty to the Flesh but unfaithful to the Lord. On the other hand when we live by faith, our decision to act in a certain way may not be how we feel or what we want to do; an act of faith to the Lord may be rebellion to the Flesh. Being a hypocrite depends on who you are being loyal.
When it comes to understanding Proverbs, I utilize context far more than most. The common perception is that these are all (very) random principles that Solomon strings together and they really have no meaningful relationship with one another. I tend to disagree. I believe that the Spirit of God connects certain things together that we may not think are relevant to each other. The Spirit is a most excellent counselor and understands the human condition better than we do. Let me show you what I mean:
God created humans in His image. Consequently, we have wisdom, brilliance, creativity, etc., but we are fallen human beings and “what seems right in our own ways ends up destructive.” What are examples of “our ways seem right” from this text? Let me show you:
- Proverbs 14:5 – being a false witness and speaks lies seems to make sense in certain circumstances.
- 4:6 – scoffers or those who mock others. Again, why would people do this if it did not seem right to him at that particular time?
- 4:7-9 – fools are to be avoided for they are deceitful.
- 4:10 – heart of bitterness cannot be understood
- 14:14 – there are few limits to what a backslider will do.
- 14:15 – the naïve believes everything they hear.
- 14:15 – the fool who is arrogant and careless
The point being is that all these issues often seem right to a person at the time, in the particular circumstances, and, for some, as a way of life, but these ways end in death; they are self-destructive. We often tend to be our own worst enemy by our choices and decisions. In some way they make no sense, but we do them anyway.
The epitaph of the “way that seems right to man” is that “even in laughter the heart may be in pain.” The way that often seems right to us is very self-destructive. We deceive ourselves even to the point that we are committed to let people see what we want them to see, but it is not the reality of the heart. We give this appearance that everything is wonderful, when in fact, there is bitterness in our heart and deceit in our speech. We lie to ourselves and others about the struggles of the way that seems right to us.
This struggle is primarily a temptation for believers. It is easy to have this perception that genuine faith means we have our act together. We want people to think well of us, so we put on a mask that gives the appearance that everything is well, but we are struggling. We do not trust people enough to be transparent and we loathe being vulnerable because these struggles look like a lack of faith or faithfulness. There are (many, many) ways that seem right to us, but are very destructive. What is the alternative? Truth, wisdom, being upright, prudent, and righteous as God defines them.