Question: If a man makes a mistake and commits a sin but he believes in his heart that it is not a sin and it is the will of God, then God will punish him for this error despite the fact that this man believes in his conscience that it is the will of God? For example, Islam’s kamikazes who cause terror and death believing it is the will of God. Why does God not clearly show the truth to people but lets them make terrible errors in His name? I can imagine a future dialog on judgment day where a person blames God for not opening his mind to the truth. Or would God forgive him for at least seeking to honor Him even though he did it improperly?
Answer: If I believe in my conscience that taking your life to further mine is correct, should I be given credit for killing you conscientiously? I ask it that way because I believe we are dealing with the question of absolutes here, moral absolutes and doctrinal absolutes.
Suppose I know someone you know, let’s call him Brett, and you see Brett as a loving family man and trusted worker, but I see him as a terrorist who is only putting on a front. Perhaps I carry out a terrorist act in Brett’s name with him as my mentor and example. In my conscience I believe it is proper to kill innocent people for the sake of the cause we, Brett and I, espouse. But is it ever right to kill innocent people to bolster one’s cause? Why do some people believe it is? Because Brett told them too? But if you know that Brett is not a terrorist and does not approve of terrorism, should you still honor me for killing in his name because I so firmly believed he was a terrorist? If you know Brett is a terrorist, does that cause you to honor me for doing terrorism in his name?
In Romans 1:18-26 Paul describes how everyone knows the truth about who God is because He has made it plain to everyone. No one on earth has an excuse to say they didn’t know about God. Paul similarly describes the role of conscience in Romans 2 and how it guides us in our decision making. We can violate our conscience and deny God and His moral law and even find ourselves doing it in God’s name.
Paul says that we hold down the truth or suppress the truth about God and His moral law. We do this because we don’t want to have to submit to a God whom we cannot control. We redefine God in a way that makes Him acceptable to us. All the religions of the world are a defining of God in a way that keeps Him manageable. All the religions of the world, except Christianity, hold, for example, that the way to have a right relationship to God is by obeying Him and that we have the ability to do that. Christianity, on the other hand, denies that we have the ability to obey God and so holds that a right relationship with God can only come as a gift from Him. All the religions of the world, except Christianity, believe that God will forgive us if we are trying hard to obey Him. Christianity, on the other hand, acknowledges that we all justly deserve eternal separation from God and He cannot forgive us unless the demands of justice are met, and He has indeed met them for us by dying in our place. Christianity alone requires a sacrifice because Christianity alone understands how truly alienated and rebellious we are.
So we are truly culpable or blameworthy for claiming wrong things about God. We do know better deep down but don’t want to acknowledge it. God will not honor the terrorist for thinking he was doing God’s will. The terrorist is in rebellion against the true God and will not be pardoned for wicked deeds done in God’s name. He will have no excuse before the throne of judgment.
There may be areas of moral decision that are not so clear as the issue of murdering innocents. In these areas there is room for honest differences between people and God will certainly honor the intent of the heart. But He will not justify killing in His name for the sake of striking fear in people’s hearts to get one’s political or religious view more influence. That young man or woman who believes he or she is getting into heaven because they blew themselves up in Allah’s name is going to be sadly disappointed. They should have known better. Deep down, they did know better. They had to stifle their conscience with the false teaching of those who recruited them.