WHY DOES GOD ALLOW FALSE TEACHING?

 Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007

QUESTION:

‘Many of the people who follow false teaching are earnestly seeking God's purpose in their lives. What purpose does God have in allowing such deception? Does it fall on us as believers of the Truth to lovingly help these individuals see God's ultimate truth and play a part in God's eternal kingdom?’

ANSWER:

I will respond to each part of this question in turn.

[1] The statement that ‘many of these people … are earnestly seeking God’s purpose for their lives’.

This statement actually provokes compounding questions:

      • Where in the Bible is earnestness or sincerity the criteria by which people are justified or condemned? The Pharisees were exceedingly earnest and sincere, but they were identified by Jesus Christ as people who did not know God. Although we do have to be sincere in our faith, the value of faith is not in its sincerity but in its object. If I put all my trust in a god that I have created with either my hands or in my head that god can do nothing for me in any ultimate sense. Sadly, it is possible to be sincerely wrong.
      • At the bottom line, are we supposed to be ‘seeking God’s purpose for our lives’, or are we supposed to be seeking God himself? The idolatrous Israel to whom most of the prophets spoke, were repeatedly told to ‘seek the Lord’ as opposed to reaching out and praying to idols. It is only when we have sought and found the one true God that any seeking for his purpose can be meaningful or relevant.
      • Which ‘God’ is it whose purpose they are seeking? Is it the one true God who has revealed himself in creation, in the history of Israel, in Scripture, and finally in his Son, Jesus Christ? Or, is it some ‘god concept’ that they have in their heads that is just as much a false god as the physical idols?

Summary answer: sincerity of faith counts for nothing with God unless it is directed towards the one whom the Bible states is the only God.

[2] What purpose does God have in allowing such deception?

This is the same kind of question as ‘Why did God allow Adam to sin?’ or ‘Why did God create humans able to sin?’ or, even behind that, ‘Why did God not stop Satan deceiving the first humans?’ It is also very similar to the question: ‘Why does God allow suffering?’

These are deep and puzzling questions, which can in this life be answered only in part. The partial answers include the following biblical perspectives:

      • That God created humans with freedom of will. We are not programmed ‘machines’ like the non-animate and some of the microscopic animate creation; we are not creatures of instinct like the animate creation. We are humans created in the image of a personal Triune God: we are persons, and as persons we were created with, among other things, the ability to think and to choose. God created us ‘in his image’ and ‘in his likeness’, but we do not automatically reflect his glory as the non-personal creation does; we reflect his glory only when our thoughts and choices mirror his. The one prohibition of Genesis 2:17 focuses on this choice. Here in Genesis 2:17 God puts the choice before us: on the one hand, trust and dependence on him and his word, resulting in life and continuing freedom, or, on the other hand, rejection of him and his word, resulting in death and loss of freedom.
      • From Genesis 3 onwards humans have been trapped in a mindset of rejection of God and rebellion against his truth. Satan’s deceitful suggestions corrupted the knowledge of God. From this point onwards the ‘gods’ sought by humans have been gods of their own creation. Romans 1:18- 32 sums up our whole sad history of our rejection of the knowledge of God, substitution of false gods, and the associated degradation of life and morals that inevitably ensues.
      • The ignorance of God that began in Genesis 3 and continues to this day, as evident in false teaching both inside and outside of the visible church, is both the automatic consequence of our rejection of God and his Word, and God’s judgment on that rejection. This ignorance, which the Bible sometimes refers to as ‘darkness’, is the result of our human choice, not God’s choice. At a fundamental level, ignorance of God, ‘darkness’, is what God actually said ‘no’ to in that prohibition of Genesis 2:17. It is what God does not allow, but what we humans chose. God outlawed it. We embraced it. This ignorance of God, this darkness, is all included in that warning ‘you will surely die’. This ignorance of God that separates us from God, is spiritual death.

God’s opposition to this darkness and ignorance is clearly evident in the Scripture, and most specifically evident in the incarnation and God’s purposes in the incarnation. Jesus Christ said:

‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil’ [John 3:19].

‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ [John 8:12].

‘I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in the darkness’ [John 12:46].

The apostles spoke in a similar way:

‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. … God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ [2 Corinthians 4:4,6].

‘ … you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord’ [Ephesians 5:8].

‘’… giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us safe in the kingdom of the Son he loves [Colossians 1:12,13].

‘This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth’ [1 John 1:5-6].

Here in the incarnation of Christ, and the salvation wrought by that incarnation, is God’s final answer about his attitude to the darkness of false gods and false teaching, and his clear purpose to rescue us from that darkness. Here is also God’s final demonstration that the darkness is not forever – that the day is coming when there will be no more darkness, but only Light: no more error, only truth.

‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is the lamp. … There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light’ [Revelation 21:23: 22:5].

Summary Answer: Humans chose, and continue to choose, the darkness of ignorance and error about God, rather than the light of God’s self-revelation in his Word. The presence of false teaching is the direct result of our human choice. As long as humans reject the one true God as he has revealed himself to be, there will be darkness and error – there will be false teaching. God, in an act of indescribable grace, allows us to continue to exist, even in this darkness. In this era of darkness between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21, which is also the era of grace, we have the opportunity to be rescued from the darkness and brought into his light. For this reason God delays the day when he will destroy the darkness [ignorance, error, false teaching, and associated degradation] for ever.

Additional note: As indicated briefly above, there is a sense in which the on-going presence of error/false teaching is the judgment of God on the persistent choice to embrace error rather than his truth. This is a deep and heavy reality alluded to in a number of places in the scripture. If you wish to look into this study these scriptures: Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:10-15; Romans 1:18-32; 2 Thessalonians 9-12.

[3] Does it fall on us as believers of the Truth to lovingly help these individuals see God's ultimate truth and play a part in God's eternal kingdom?

Yes. God has shone the light of his truth into our hearts and minds. God has rescued us from the darkness.

‘We know … that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true’ [1 John 5:20].

‘If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ [John 14:7,9].

Yes. God, in his grace, delayed his destruction of the darkness until he had rescued us from it [read 2 Peter 3:3-10]. He did this by his appointed means of other human beings teaching us the truth [read Romans 10:9-15; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. Because they were faithful, we now know the Light. Because they were faithful, we now know the Truth.

It is only in knowing and holding to the Truth that freedom comes.

‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ [John 8:31,32].

It is only as those who know the truth continue to faithfully make that truth known that others also will be rescued and liberated from the darkness of error. For this reason Paul instructed Timothy:

‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others’ [2 Timothy 2:2].

Until Christ returns it is the responsibility of those who know him to make him known. While the opportunity for repentance and faith is still available to men, the truth must be proclaimed. Only by the truth can they be liberated from the darkness.

Yes. However, because speaking God’s truth in the context of false teaching is often confrontational, this proclamation will not always appear to be ‘loving’. It may actually appear to be unloving, discriminatory, judgemental, divisive. It will at times have the nature of Jesus’ heated and provocative debates with the Pharisees, or Paul’s forthright exposure and condemnation of the blatant errors of the false teachers who were corrupting the truth in the New Testament churches. In this opposition to error both Paul and Jesus loved the truth so much, and loved people so much, that they were willing to risk their own safety and to attract criticism in order that the truth be preserved and men rescued from error.

Summary answer: Yes.