Sincerity is generally an admirable quality. Most of us in our dealings with others appreciate being thought of as sincere. To be described as “insincere” makes most of us angry or have hurt feelings. In fact, given a choice, some of us, if not many of us would prefer being described as “factually mistaken” rather than “insincere.” We tend to value the quality of sincerity somewhat above truth itself. After all, is not insincerity akin to hypocrisy? And what is more excoriated by Jesus or by the Word of God in general, than hypocrisy?
Yet, for all our appreciation of the exercise of sincerity, we must realize that sincerity without truth is not unlike “zeal without knowledge.” (Romans 10:1-3) Sincerity is a wonderful and necessary companion to truth, but the fact is that it can readily exist and actually thrive in the midst of profound error. We have all encountered zealous cultists, or unbelievers or participants of virtually every aberrant worldview who exude sincerity from every pore – who in fact are spiritually dead and blind.
We find in our culture and perhaps even among our friends and family a cherished slogan that goes something like this: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” Even those of us prone to use such a statement recognize it’s severe limitations. In fact, we recognize that an absolute embrace of that notion will only lead us into complete absurdity. In a moment of delusion, a crazed man may step off a 30 story building believing angels will catch him before he paints the pavement red. The fact is, he is going to die, and all the sincerity in the world is totally irrelevant. In reality we all believe things quite sincerely that simply are not true, and the depth of our sincerity or the passion with which we hold or promote these false claims counts for nothing.
Perhaps there is no aspect of human existence in which sincerity is given such undo preeminence as in religious matters. It is as if earnest sincerity transcends objective spiritual truth. Go out in public, in the universities, out in the street or even in churches and you will often find hushed deference granted to the crazily varied and completely incompatible theological views found from person to person – and all treated as if they are sacrosanct and inviolate simply because they are sincerely held. It is the sadly pathetic and certain outworking of the mantra “it doesn’t matter what you believe….”
We have a propensity in our culture and in large part in our churches to minimize the hard edged nature of truth. Why is this so? In part it is because we have partially succumbed to the world’s persistent insistence on relativism and ambiguity. For many of us it is no easy matter to stand up in the class room or the office or among our family and say that which smacks of exclusivity. Such pronouncements as “Jesus is ALONE the Way, the Truth and the Life,” or “God is sovereign over all of creation without exception,” or “yes, Islam is false and damnable,” do make us feel uncomfortable tension. Confronting the spiritual sensibilities of those who promote heretical doctrines when they do so with sincerity is no task for the faint of heart. The more we sense or suppose sincerity on the part of those without Christ, truth or hope…the more awkward and petty we are likely to feel in confrontation. No matter how bankrupt the worldviews and theological pronouncements we withstand.
It is incumbent upon us as Christians to recognize and stand firmly on the principle of truth as thoroughly superior to feelings, emotions, hopes, traditions and preferences if truth is clearly in conflict with any of these experiences. Doubtlessly, if rightly understood, sincerity is not only desirable, but crucial and central. But wrongly emphasized or seen as trumping the very nature of truth, or being supposed to be an exoneration of, or a cover for error – it is a massively weighty anchor that will drag one down into the dreaded deep sea of crushing subjectivity. Let us rather hold the truth with a sincere heart that promotes right doctrine, right thinking, and subsequent right living.
– David Leach