A way that seems right is a hindrance to virtue
Pope Shenouda III | 2 January 2011
A verse repeated twice in the Proverbs due to its important says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." (Prov 14: 12; 16: 25) It probably means that a person should not rely on his own view and understanding of matters, for he may be wrong or think a certain way good, while it is harmful. Therefore, "Lean not on your own understanding" (Prov 3: 5), nor lay your whole trust on your own thoughts and trends, nor fulfill all your desires, for though they may seem sound, they turn to your trouble.
The Scripture further blames a person who is wise in his own eyes and follows his own thoughts, saying, "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." (Prov 26: 12)
The first sin of man seemed right, but its end was death.
The Serpent tempted man to eat of the tree, saying, "You will be like God, knowing good and evil," but this was not realized, for man fell under the sentence of death and was driven away from the garden.
Satan followed this way which seemed right, for he said, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north," (Isa 14: 13, 14) but he was brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. He lost his rank as an angel, and was separated from God forever.
Satan tempted Adam, but Satan himself was moved by his own evil heart desire. So many people actually are attracted to ways that seem right, a wide gate and a broad way, against which the Lord warned us in the Sermon on the Mount, that they lead to destruction, but no doubt many who go in by it, thinking it the right way (Mt 7: 13). On the contrary is the narrow gate and difficult way that lead to life. Relying on one's own thoughts may lead to destruction, as in the case of the Lost Son who thought the right way was in going out of his father's house! (Lk 15) He thought it the way to pleasure, company, and freedom from the restrictions and commands of the father and from the rules of the house. The result was loss!
The same happened to Rehoboam. He thought that the way of authority and dignity is the right way.
He thought it unreasonable that people rebel against his authority and think him weaker than his father or unable to chastise them, therefore, taking pride in his power, he said, "My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges." (1 Kgs 12: 14) What was the result? Ten tribes rebelled against him and formed for themselves a separate kingdom.
The counsel of Ahithophel actually seemed right, for he was the counselor of David the Prophet and King, and was wise in the sight of people. His advice was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God (2 Sam 16: 23). It seemed right in the sight of everybody, but its end was the way of death. That is why David cried out to the Lord to turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness (2 Sam 15: 31)!
Saul of Tarsus saw in persecuting the church a right way.
He once said, "Concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church." (Phil 3: 6) He considered persecuting the church is holy zeal, and for such zeal he kept breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and brought men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9: 1, 2). He continued in this way, which seemed right while its end was death, until the Lord appeared to him.
The same applies to Nero, Diocletian, and the Roman Emperors who persecuted Christianity with all violence and power through their violent governors like Irianus the governor of Ensena. Those invented the most violent means of torment for the Christians, imprisoned and killed them, thinking that was the right way to protect their pagan religion from the danger of the worship of the living God!
Caiaphas the high priest, together with the council, in accusing Christ, were thinking themselves taking the right way to get rid of Him! For fear of the many signs He did, they thought if they let Him alone everyone would believe in Him, then the Romans would come and take away their place and nation. So, Caiaphas the high priest said, "One man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish." (Jn 11:47-50)
With the same zeal, which seemed right, Daniel was cast into the lions' den, and three young men in the furnace of fire (Da 3, 6)
Again, with almost the same feelings the Ephesians rose violently in defense of their goddess, crying out, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" (Acts 19: 34) The city was filled with confusion and they were about to kill Paul the Apostle that day. The way seemed to them right, because they were moved by foolish zeal.
Solomon the wise thought his many marriages and enjoyment the right way.
Describing all such pleasures, he said, "I made my works great … So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me ... I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure" But all those pleasures destroyed him, for, "his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David." (1 Kgs 11: 4) Finally, he knew that all that was vain and leading to the way of death.
Strange indeed that every body sees the way he follows beautiful.
Every body thinks his own opinion is the best and his own action is the most reasonable, and goes far as to reject any other different opinion, as the Scripture says, "All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits." (Prov 16: 2) Even those who are attracted by lust to a life of pleasure, drinking and drugs may be lead to theft, deceit, or murder, thinking all this the right way, and seeing only the beauty of these pleasures.
The heretics likewise think their way is the right way.
They not only hold to their wrong views but also spread them, argue, persist, and fight sound faith violently and with all means. They use the Holy Scripture to support their heresies, insisting that their views are the best and the most correct, while the others are wrong!
A student who cheats in the exams thinks his way is right.
He thinks it an easy way for success without labor or trouble, but it may end with his dismissal from school. The same applies to whoever takes revenge and feels happy at another's fall, or plots against the others, insisting to conquer at any expense, thinking it is victory!
Causes of seeing a way as a right way:
1. Ignorance, or wrong teaching which a simple or an uneducated person may accept, hold to, and defend, maybe because of trusting one's teacher or convincing words. This may lead him to death.
The Lord therefore said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos 4: 6)
Sound teaching is necessary in all fields, whether of religion, spirituality, science, family … etc. Through teaching many wrong practices are corrected like what people used to do in the feasts of the saints or in consolation on departure of some people.
2. Lust within the heart, dominating and prevailing over the mind, easily makes of the mind an obedient servant to one's desires, trying with all its power to prove the correctness of such desires, seeing them right! It is like a person who feels happy when he divorces his wife, and seeks justification to convince himself and the others that divorce was the right way and the only solution to make him happy! Another example is a person who loves a woman from a different religion and wants to marry her even if he has to sacrifice his own religion!
Lust always blinds the mind against clear vision.
3. If the mind becomes cunning, deceitful, or artful, it will find a solution for every problem, or clothe any action in white, as if it involves no wrong. Strange indeed that people may praise such a way, as if such a person had done something wonderful!
4. Evil company, may introduce new ways and justify them. They may even be able to change one's thoughts (which some call brainwashing), by which one may accept what he had previously refused and believe that it is the right way.
5. Clinging to material and worldly matters may make a person imagine many things are right. Do you think that holding to spirituality and forsaking the world and material were right in the sight of people? No, the opposite is true; for spiritual principles are not firm within them. The apostle says about such people, "whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their mind on earthly things" (Phil 3: 19) (though the end of such earthly things is the way of death)
They may criticize a spiritual person as being miserable, deprived of the pleasures of the world!
They think that the world is the goal and the right way. Undoubtedly, such people fight consecration and spiritual way, and blame those who take this way.
For such a person, to escape the way of death, he must return to God and know the vanity of this world.
It is the fact, which Solomon the Wise recognized after being long lost in the pleasures of the world, for he finally discovered that all is vanity and grasping for the wind.