Believing what is false

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No doubt about it — how you and I come to believe what we do is a fascinating and sometimes vexing subject.

The branch of philosophy that investigates the nature of belief and knowledge is epistemology — how do we know and how do we know that we know? It asks the important question of what truly distinguishes justified belief (truth) from opinion.   

The epistemic model directs us to think critically (examination without bias), clearly (achieving clarification), correctly (resulting in formal argumentation for the truth), and lastly, comprehensively (evaluating everything, culminating in a systematized framework). It’s a breathtakingly elegant process that has such power for good when used as intended.  

It’s a shame so few use it today.

Instead, our world has whole-heartedly embraced the combined philosophy of post-truth and John Dewey-styled pragmatism, with Blaise Pascal summing up current events nicely by saying, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”

Pascal’s statement highlights the critical distinction between assenting to truth and consenting to it. You can acknowledge truth without ever subjecting yourself to it. We do it all the time with bad health choices, doomed relationships, etc.  

If only we’d listen to Christian apologist Paul Copan on the matter when he writes, “Beliefs are simply not to be equated with truth or reality; rather, they are to conform to truth.”

But our beliefs today don’t conform to truth. Instead, they ricochet off our minds and hearts in all sorts of bizarre directions.

When 70% of voters in the most recent midterm election say they’re unhappy with the state of the nation, but then vote for the same mix of politicians that have cooked up the current category five disaster we’re living in, something’s not right. When people are so confused over their own nature and begin identifying as animals like a hippopotamus, we’ve jumped the shark.

When the purpose of marriage is so misunderstood that people marry physical objects like blow-up dolls and even bridges, the idea of truth is a distant memory. When repeat, violent offenders are constantly unleashed back on our mostly-helpless communities resulting in “city after city being turned into feces-smeared murdertopias that make Charles Bronson’s Death Wish look like The Sound of Music”, moral truth has gone out the window.  

Our nation looks increasingly like ancient Nineveh where people “do not know the difference between their right and left hand” (Jonah 4:11).

Hard to believe, but it can actually get worse. And this is where God comes in.

God’s seal of judgment

We all need to understand one thing: God takes truth very seriously and dispenses the worst kinds of judgment on those who don’t.

We read about truth deniers and their fate in multiple passages of Scripture including Romans where we’re told about those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18) and Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians where he speaks of people who do “not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2:10). Because they are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20), not only do these individuals receive eternal condemnation, but God seems to divinely seal their fate so their worst nightmares are destined to become true.

Three times in Romans 1, Paul says God “gave them over” (vs. 24, 26, 28) to a type of sinful enslavement that keeps them in a tragic and unbelieving state. And in his second letter to the Thessalonians, we’re told that God sends on truth rejectors “a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false” (2:11) that keeps them literally doomed.

Our Creator’s judgment of believing what is false isn’t confined to the New Testament. We see it in those 39 books that precede it such as when God uses a lying spirit to deceive the anything-but-upstanding king Ahab, which causes his death as well as the defeat of Israel in battle (1 Kings 22:23).    

Such temporal and eternal wrath is only handed down after repeated attempts have been made to get people to repent, but at some point, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26).

We so need to listen to this admonition and examples of what happened to those who abandoned truth in Scripture because “whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:14). The painful wake-up calls of God will one day end and as the old saying goes, “there’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”

Asking for more of the same as our truth-denying, believing-what-is-false, and morally vacuous culture will end in only one thing. Although divinely revealed to Israel thousands of years ago, God’s pleading and warnings to ancient Israel are spot on for us today:  

“Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners” (Is. 1:5-7).

If ever prayer, repentance, and a return to truth were needed in this country, it’s now. Until that happens, we’ll be living the pain of God’s judgment and the madness identified by Irving Kristol: “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mysterious as the obvious.” 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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