There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. – Prov 14:12
I’ve always had a poor sense of direction. I remember pre-GPS days, when I would sit at a stop sign. I would just stare at the intersection, and force my brain to try to think spatially. After all, I had just driven this way a few hours ago. All I had to do was retrace my steps. How hard could that be? ‘Now think, brain, what is the reverse of the way you got here?’ So I would sit, thinking hard for fifteen or twenty seconds. ‘I would need to turn left. No, right. Definitely right. Yep, that’s definitely the way. It’s gotta be right. That’s the way back.’ Every single time… I was wrong. It got to the point where whichever way I felt was right in my gut, I would go the opposite way. And that actually worked a lot of times.
Given our distaste for external, institutional authority, we have instead coronated “the gut”. To the extent that we have a popular-level metaphysics, we don’t define the gut quite the same as the heart. The gut is like a better credentialed version of the heart, albeit more boring. We don’t always allow the gut the final say, but we tend to think of the heart as more dictated by passions, desires, and wants. The gut factors in all these things, but also gives more air time to conscience, wisdom, and morals. That’s why the safest guidance our world tends to offer people when it comes to big decisions is: “Listen to your gut.”
There’s a problem with that, Proverbs tells us. Our gut doesn’t always know what’s best. In fact, because of our fallen nature, because of the corruption of sin that stays with us for life, there is a way of thinking and doing life that will feel right, while it is actually killing us. That’s meant to be a scary thought. It’s meant to give us pause. It’s meant to give us a little hesitation so that we don’t simply stop for a second to do our quick gut check, pat ourselves on the back, and plod steadily on in destroying ourselves. The band OneRepublic said it perfectly: “I feel something so right, doing the wrong thing, and I feel something so wrong doing the right thing.”
Try it out sometime. Ask a ten year old what he feels, in his gut, is the best way to spend most of his evenings? Playing videogames, or reading and studying? How many times have you seen a friend making a bone-headed decision about a relationship, or a next step in their career? You can’t say anything, because even though you can see the ending, it feels one hundred percent right to them.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the same message: “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” The warning is: don’t assume you know your own intentions. Don’t assume your moral compass is perfectly tuned. In fact, assume you constantly need to be re-tuning your compass so that it does align with what God says in his Word. We can develop sound, Biblical instincts over time, but we must continually be letting God’s Word re-shape and re-direct us.