Are you familiar with this refrain from the Book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25)? I am embarrassed to say that though I have known for years, decades even, that this is the guiding principle of the book, that I have misunderstood its import.
When I read these words, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” I thought only of people doing what they liked, following their own way. I thought these people were selfish and undisciplined, that they had no guiding principle, no concern for absolute truth, no awareness of the law of God.
But I missed a key word in the middle of the sentence: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Do you see that? They did not just do what they felt like (though no doubt they did feel like it). They did not follow whims and passions without consideration. They used their reason. They did not say “I don’t care what is right, but I will do as I feel.” But they found what was right — at least to their own thinking – and did that thing.
Their problem was not that they indulged in the wrong or did not care whether what they did was wrong or right. They did care. They took pains to find what was “right.” The problem was that they relied upon “their own eyes.” They used their reason but they came to wrong conclusions because they had no guiding principle outside themselves. Their reason failed them.
This is what Charlotte Mason tells us about what she calls the Way of Reason — that it is a tool and cannot be our master. It can, and has, been used to justify any ends so we must be careful of our beginnings. We cannot rely upon our own eyes but must begin with something firm and true, something outside ourselves:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prov. 14:12; ESV)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)
For “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7a)