Discernment

Thank-you to Mark Eckel for sharing insights with Emerging Scholars as they seek to engage the new year and their particular context with wisdom. Note: Earlier posts in the Scholar’s Compass Learning to Live Together series: Approach, Disagreement. For Mark’s previous work for the blog click here. To God be the glory! ~ Tom Grosh IV, Assoc. Dir., ESN


Quotation

At the crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over.[1]

Reflection

In the futuristic thriller World War Z, Brad Pitt plays a U.N. envoy who battles a world-wide zombie apocalypse. He discovers that Israel has successfully walled off their nation to stop the onslaught of the undead. Discussion with the politician responsible for the successful defense uncovers an approach to problem solving named “the tenth man.” Numerous incidents in history have led the Israelis to conclude if all the information points in an obvious direction it is the responsibility of “the tenth man” to stand in opposition to the majority, no matter how improbable the claim.[2]

Our decisions are hardly ever that graphic, nor the outcomes so dire! Yet, the movie clip causes us to ask the question, “How do I make a decision in the face of adversity or against overwhelming opposition?” Scripture is clear that cultivating discernment is crucial.

Discernment in Proverbs is the means to foresee potential results from our decisions. Sometimes we are called on to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, or to maintain the status quo over against a venture into the unknown. Discernment begins with the moral order of God. Mathematicians depend on immutable logic. Scientists study based on a stable, ordered world. Musicians create because they can count on melody, harmony, and rhythm. God made His world to work in a certain way which helps us know how to live in it. Solomon showed that discernment came from research. Hard work was necessary to uncover the “secrets” of God’s creation (1 Kings 4.29-34; Proverbs 29:2).

Solomon’s decision making was established on God’s perspectives. For example, the king discerned a mother’s true love based on the suggestion that a child be sawn in two (1 Kings 3.16-28). In Solomon’s case, he knew that a mother would never allow her child’s death and would rather give the baby to another than to have the little one die. Testing the worth of things based on their outcome is exactly what Romans 12:2 means when it says we are to “discern the will of God.”

Other New Testament examples show the power of biblical discernment. Ephesians 5:8-10 says we are to apply a test to examine, discover or approve “what is pleasing to the Lord.” Philippians 1:9-10 confirms that our love should include discernment benefiting others. Hebrews 5:14 calls on the believer to “distinguish between good and evil” because she has been “trained by constant practice.” 1 John 4:1 commands us to “test” all viewpoints, illuminating false ideas by biblical truth.

How do we test for discernment? Proverbial wisdom offers a five point plan. A discerning person:

  1. Seeks knowledge (14.6, 15.14, 18.15)
  2. Accepts rebuke (19.25)
  3. Makes wisdom a part of her (14.33)
  4. Develops interior character (16.21), and
  5. Stays silent unless one can speak with wisdom (10.13, 27:28).

Kurt Vonnegut made a unique proposal. Indianapolis native, author of such novels as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut suggested that presidents should have a “Secretary of the Future” in their cabinet.[3] The unique, prescient idea would cause people to ask, “What if?” Do we think futuristically about our decisions before we make them? Do we consider what unintended consequences might arise as a result of our decision? Do we recognize that in a finite, fallen world even our best decisions may be fraught with difficulties? We may not face a zombie apocalypse or be part of a presidential cabinet. But we can all consider our decisions based on biblical discernment.

Questions

  1. Why is God’s way of living better than a purely human view of morality?
  2. Who can help me develop a discerning mindset?
  3. What decision do I face now that could be helped by biblical discernment?
  4. When do I make time to reflect on decision making which is forward thinking?
  5. How do we put discernment into practice in our homes, churches, communities?

Prayer

Dear Lord. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Give us attentive spirits to follow Your Spirit. Give us unseen helps that help us make sense of what we see. Give us the assurance that when we cannot be sure of our decisions, we can be sure of You. Amen. (A prayer based on 2 Chronicles 20:12)


[1] Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good, 1971.
[2] See the three minute clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcNK7M2eCI4
[3] http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcriptNOW140_full.html

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Mark Eckel

Dr. Mark Eckel is adjunct professor for various institutions, President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), teaches weekly at his church (video) and writes weekly at his website warpandwoof.org.

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