Danger on the Hill of Error

Today, it’s hard to know who or what to trust. Misinformation, strong opinions, and conspiracy theories are everywhere. There can be so much noise as people passionately argue that their point of view is the truth, and not only that it is ‘the truth,’ but that you must accept and agree with it in order to get along with them.

Did you know that the devil is the author of confusion and misinformation? In fact, in the opening scenes of the Bible, his primary tactic was to misrepresent and undermine trust in God and His word. That’s what happened in Genesis chapter 3; it’s literally the oldest trick in the book. 

The devil has not changed his tactics since the beginning, and more than anything, he wants to cause you to doubt God’s word. He did it in the garden with Eve and tried it with Jesus in the wilderness. He sowed seeds of doubt and mistrust in the early church, which the Apostle Paul warned about in his letter in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

There are still deceptive philosophies, human traditions, and spiritual forces at work undermining truth today.

For the past 10 weeks we as a church have been going through John Bunyan’s classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. The main character, Christian, has endured many challenges, heartaches, and triumphs on his journey to the Celestial City. Last week both Christian and Hopeful escaped The Castle of Despair, and if you missed it, you can listen to it here.

As they continue their journey this week, they encounter shepherds who take them to four places to help them understand and discern what is right and true. The shepherds represent pastors who help guide and instruct the pilgrims. The first place they’re led to is The Hill of Error.

Let’s return to Genesis for a minute, the part where Satan tempts Eve and where he sows seeds of doubt and mistrust by misquoting what God had commanded.

He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” -Genesis 3:1-2

But what did God actually say? For that answer, we need to look back at Genesis chapter 2.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will certainly die.” -Genesis 2:16-17

Notice how Satan alters the truth? It’s subtle, but Satan suggests that God has forbidden Adam and Eve from every tree (misrepresenting God and trying to show Him as an unreasonable bully who wants to keep good things away from them) when in reality, it was only the one tree that they were not to eat from.

But it’s not just Satan that gets it wrong. Eve also misquotes God by adding these words to God’s command: “You must not touch it, or you will die.”

God didn’t say that. I reread Genesis chapter 2 just in case I missed something, and for the record, those words aren’t there. In fact, Eve wasn’t even in that scene.

The difference is that she heard the voice of God second-hand through Adam rather than personally from God. My concern is that too many Christians are content to rely on a second-hand knowledge of God. They put all their faith and trust in their favourite teachers or podcasts rather than reading the Bible for themselves and getting to know God personally through prayer. Imagine only ever eating at restaurants and allowing strangers to feed you. The food may taste amazing, but you don’t always know what’s in the food, how it’s made, or how to put a meal together for yourself. And the ingredients may not have the nutrition that you need. It’s much better to know how to cook for yourself and eat out occasionally, not to mention a much better use of your money.

Please understand podcasts and preachers have great value. They can help lead and guide us, but they are there to help teach us and equip us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd for ourselves. Sermons are like eating a wonderful meal at a fantastic restaurant, and they should be a regular part of your spiritual diet, but it isn’t healthy to rely solely on others for your spiritual nourishment. You need to know God’s voice and His word for yourself personally.

Jesus illustrated how to do this properly. In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus was led into the wilderness, where he encountered Satan’s distortion of the truth. Satan even quoted scripture to Jesus; however, he misrepresented the meaning behind it. But Jesus was ready, and he knew the voice of God and His word and could identify the counterfeit truth that the devil was trying to sell him.

There is a sobering illustration at the top of the Hill of Error. The shepherds show Christian and Hopeful the consequence of being led astray by accepting the truth the world gives. Looking down, they see the bodies of those who bought the ‘truths’ of this world and rejected the truth that God gives. It’s a disturbing picture that John Bunyan shows, but it reveals how important it is to understand what is true.

This part of Christian’s story reminds me of Proverbs 14:12, which says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

Truth isn’t a lofty idea or a philosophy. The Bible teaches us that the truth is a person. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the truth, and if we know Him and follow his way, we will know truth and be able to quickly identify what is false.

So how do we do this? We need to know the truth for ourselves. We need to spend time with Jesus through prayer, worship, and scripture reading; there is no shortcut for this. We need to put in the time and effort to know God and His truth for ourselves. We need to surround ourselves with a community of believers that will help encourage our faith. And we need pastors to equip us and show us how to continue on the right path.

You see, the world wants to define what truth is. And the question is, who or what will you allow to define what is true? Are you going to let a social media guru to have that job? A social narrative? Your favourite news commentator? Popular opinion?

Or will you allow God to define what is true?