Does Sincerely Believing Change Wrong into Right?
Is sincerity sufficient to cover mistaken beliefs? What does the Bible say?
A YOUNG child often does not know the difference between right and wrong. He may take a bottle from the medicine cabinet and consume its contents, thinking it is candy. But it may be poison. The child believes he is getting what he wants, but he is wrong, with tragic consequences.
There are persons in mental institutions who believe all kinds of fanciful things that are not true. They have deluded themselves to the point where they sincerely believe their daydreams. Some have even imagined themselves to be great world leaders like Napoleon. But does their believing such make it so? No, it does not change what is wrong into what is right.
EITHER RIGHT OR WRONG
It is not only children or those of unbalanced mentality who sincerely believe what is not true. Especially in the field of religion do millions of average persons sincerely believe things that are not according to the facts.
The truth will not allow for all the different shades of religious doctrine in the world. For example, either there is life after death or there is not. Either the earth will last forever or it will not. Either God will bring wickedness to an end or he will not. With these and many other beliefs there is a right and a wrong. There cannot be two sets of truth when each conflicts with the other. One or the other is true, but not both. It is like a person being alive or dead. He is one or the other, but he cannot be both. When a belief is not correct but is wrong, then it cannot be right at the same time. The most sincere belief and practice of that belief will not change it from being wrong into being right. Nor will it become acceptable to God as truth, since he does not take pleasure in falsehood.
In some lands particular animals are considered sacred and cannot be eaten, although many in those same lands die of malnutrition each year. This belief may be sincere, but does that make it right or acceptable to God? How can we know? By going to God’s own written communication to mankind, the Holy Bible, which tells us: “Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things. Therefore God, in keeping with the desires of their hearts, gave them up to uncleanness, that their bodies might be dishonored among them, even those who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created.” (Rom. 1:22-25) From this it becomes clear that God does not at all approve of those who engage in worshiping what he has created, such as animals, even though their belief and practice may be sincere.
In other countries images, or idols, are worshiped. Food and drink are placed in front of these images as offerings. Here, too, people in these same countries go hungry while this food and drink decays before these inanimate objects. Has God expressed himself on this kind of worship? Yes, he has. He long ago declared: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.”—Ex. 20:4, 5.
How God regards these idols and those who worship them he himself tells us at Psalm 115:4-8: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of the hands of earthling man. A mouth they have, but they cannot speak; eyes they have, but they cannot see; ears they have, but they cannot hear. A nose they have, but they cannot smell. Hands are theirs, but they cannot feel. Feet are theirs, but they cannot walk; they utter no sound with their throat. Those making them will become just like them, all those who are trusting in them.” Again God’s view is clear. Idols are powerless to aid man. Those who make and trust in them are compared to the lifeless idols themselves. Although this type of worship may be very sincere, it is not in harmony with God’s clearly expressed will.
No doubt you have been able to identify some of these practices as coming from so-called “pagan” lands. Many feel that such worship would never be practiced in the “more enlightened” Western civilizations. But let us analyze just one belief prominent in the realm of Christendom to see if this is so.
Most of the religions in the Western world sincerely believe that after death wicked men will be tortured forever in a hell of fire. It is believed that actual physical pain of unbelievable intensity will be the lot of those who go to such a place. Yet, what would you think of a father who put the hand of his child into a hot fire and caused severe burns? You would agree that a parent would have to be unreasonable and cruel to do that. Or if a person took an animal, a dog for instance, and slowly roasted it over hot coals while yet alive, it would be considered an outrageous, senseless and horribly revolting act.
Yet we are asked to believe that God, who is Love, will do much worse to humans!
Is this belief according to the facts? God’s attitude toward such a belief can be seen when something of a similar nature was perpetrated in the nation of ancient Israel. At that time the Israelites actually made their children pass through fire in child sacrifice to the false god called Molech. Note what Almighty God said of this practice: “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, in order to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Molech, a thing that I did not command them, neither did it come up into my heart to do this detestable thing.” (Jer. 32:35) No, God did not even meditate doing such a thing. How, then, can he be accused of doing worse, torturing persons in hellfire throughout eternity?
The fate of willfully wicked ones is clear: “Jehovah is guarding all those loving him, but all the wicked ones he will annihilate.” (Ps. 145:20) Annihilation, not eternal torture, is the lot of those who are willfully wicked.
Those who believe and teach a fiery hell of torture dishonor God. They teach as coming from God a doctrine that he rejects as a lie. It also is responsible for turning many reasoning persons away from God, as they feel they cannot put faith in a God who would do to humans what we would not do to a dumb dog.
If God accepts sincere, although wrong, worship, then why did the practice of offering child sacrifices to Molech disappear from the world scene? The Israelites were not blessed for this erroneous worship. Their sincerity was not accepted. Molech was not the true and living God. The belief and service of this false god was violently rejected by God.
It might also come as a shock to many in Christendom who believe the doctrine of eternal torture to learn that in many pagan lands the identical belief is promoted! A burning hell of fire for the wicked is one of the main doctrines and beliefs of millions of persons living in pagan lands!
GOD’S WORD IS TRUTH
This brief analysis of just a few beliefs of “pagan” and “Christian” religions should show the thinking person that sincerity in believing a doctrine does not change what is wrong into what is right. It does not make it acceptable to God. He cannot condone what is wrong. He cannot bless what is falsehood. He is a God of truth. “It is impossible for God to lie,” states Hebrews 6:18; so surely he would not approve lies even when sincerely taught in his name.
God wants us to show sincerity in worship, true. But it is sincerity in true worship that he wants, not sincerity in false worship.
To aid those who are truly sincere in wanting to worship in truth, God has provided an infallible guide, his Word, the Bible. By this revelation of his mind humans can ascertain who he is, what his purposes are, and what the accurate knowledge of the truth is. As Jesus Christ said in prayer to his heavenly Father: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Those who want to live in God’s righteous new order, wherein man will live amid paradise conditions in perfect health and happiness forever, need to study God’s Word to determine what the truth is. Jesus also stated: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
No doubt you are sincere in your beliefs. But remember, sincerity in itself will not change a wrong belief into a right one nor make it acceptable to God. God wants you to use his written Word to determine what is right. In this way he puts you to the test to see if you deserve his blessings. If you are apathetic, trusting in others to do all your religious thinking for you, then you cannot expect God’s favor.
No, do not be as the young child, consuming what you do not know to your own hurt, for “there exists a way that is upright before a man, but the ways of death are the end of it afterward.” (Prov. 16:25) Rather than choosing such a course, “trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”—Prov. 3:5, 6.