Two men had gone for a hike along the trails of a deep forest. They came to a place where the trail forked into two directions. The sign that was supposed to mark which trail was which had been defaced. It simply read ‘Yes’ pointing to one direction and ‘No’ pointing to the other direction. Since they were both Christians, they decided that it would be best to pray for enlightenment. So they prayed for a while but that didn’t give them a clear indication of which direction to go.
“I have a gut feeling that we should go left.” One of them stated.
“You can’t trust your gut! Your flesh can be deceived!” The other declared. “Satan might be trying to make you think that you should go left because he knows that trail has a sudden drop that’s likely to kill you.”
“Seriously? It’s not like I reached that conclusion without considering it carefully. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west – based on where it is in the sky in all the time we’ve been here, I realized that that’s the direction we need to go.” The first man told him.
“You really should read the Bible. There’s a story about the sun going backwards or something like that. We can’t trust that God hasn’t decided to hold back the sun again to give us more light to see with. So we can clearly not choose going left.” The second man answered.
“Look, you go your way and I’ll go mine. Whichever one of us makes it out will send back search parties to find the other one who is still missing.” The first one suggested.
“Alright – when I make it out, I’ll tell the search parties that you went down the wrong trail and they’ll know exactly where to find you.” The second man agreed.
The first man went down the trail marked “No” it wasn’t long before he came to the trail head and to his parked car. Being a man of his word, he found a ranger and told him what had happened.
“It seems like some teenagers have defaced that sign again. That particular trail is a thirty mile loop around the lake that’ll take him right back to that sign. I’ll have some people start travelling it from both ends and hopefully one of them will radio in that they’ve found him.” The ranger told him.
Awhile later, the second man walked out of the woods with a few other rangers. He told the first, “See? God sent me angels to deliver me the message that I’d chosen the correct trail. That’s what happens when you ignore gut feelings.”
Sometimes I wonder how certain Christians function. I first heard about the lengths they go to a few years ago when the Sunday school teacher described a friend of his:
“The first thing she does in the morning is pray for forgiveness for the sins she might have committed in her sleep as she dreamed. She prays before and after she eats each meal. She won’t set foot in her car until she has prayed for travel mercies and after she has returned home she prays again to thank him for safety and for forgiveness for any incidents of anger. Someone might think that she’s a devout believer because she prays so much, but when I asked her about it, she told me that she was afraid of having unrepentant sin at the moment of her death which would condemn her to Hell.”
Because of such a literal interpretation, concepts like how easily our flesh can be deceived can be taken to mean that each and everything we understand as humans can be a trick from Satan to get us to go off of the ‘straight and narrow’. It can also mean that it’s very easy for our flesh to be wrong even without Satan’s help. It means that every decision must be weighted against the totality of Scripture to see what matches (good) and what does not (very, very bad.) And for anything that is not clearly spelled out in the good book, lots of prayer for wisdom, guidance, and direction are called for. One thing that must be avoided at all times is relying on one’s emotions or feelings to get a sense of whether or not they’re in the right.
Apparently, Satan’s favorite tactic is to manipulate people’s emotions: he sends people ‘false positives’ that they’re on the straight and narrow. He sends people guilt and convicts them of things that they aren’t really guilty of. He does this so well, that the times when the Holy Spirit tries to get our conscience to tell us that we are guilty of something or have gone off of the path – we can’t really tell the differences. So whatever we feel is most probably and always wrong.
Think about that. I’m walking along and I suddenly remember that I have something against another Christian. Maybe I feel angry that they insulted me. In this scenario, I might be being tricked by my own flesh. Maybe I don’t really feel angry or insulted – but I think I do. Maybe I don’t really feel angry or insulted – but Satan has tricked me into thinking that I do. Maybe the Holy Spirit has reminded me that I am angry at having been insulted and that the Bible says that I should not offer anything to the altar, but I should drop whatever I’m doing and resolve the matter. Since my emotions are terribly human – whichever the case may be I can’t trust them.
I couldn’t live like that – constantly afraid of sinning, constantly afraid that I’m being deceived, constantly wondering if I’m on the straight and narrow. Ultimately, faith is a feeling – a certainty that we’re trust in our sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to tell us about the realities of this world. Faith should cancel out fear – not be governed by it.