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03 August 2016

Discernment: Use your noggin!

God gives us wisdom. Use it to detect when people are leading us astray.

I’ve written previously, briefly, on supernatural discernment. I’ll have to get further into it another time. But today I get to the usual kind: The ability to judge between true and false.

Yeah, there’s regular discernment and supernatural discernment. There are Christians who insist there’s only one kind of discernment, and it ain’t supernatural: We deduce between good and evil, and God heightens our ability by spelling out good and evil in the scriptures. Study your bible and you’ll learn to immediately recognize evil.

And yeah, that’s pretty much how ordinary discernment works.

Trouble is, in practice a lot of these Christians confuse their knee-jerk reactions, their unthinking responses, their prejudices, with discernment. They’re not comfortable with something, so they leap to the easy conclusion it’s evil. That’s why so many old-timers in the 1950s and ’60s just presumed rock and roll was evil; that’s why so many old-timers in the present day just presume Harry Potter is evil. (“It’s about magic? Yep, that’s evil.”)

Regular discernment means we gotta think. We gotta figure things out. We gotta look at people’s motives. We gotta look for the things the scriptures instruct us to: Fruit of the Spirit, or works of the flesh. Good or bad character. Motives. Self-sacrificing or self-serving deeds. There’s a difference, and we gotta detect this difference.

Sometimes discernment’s called wisdom, and the Old Testament frequently uses wisdom as a synonym. Dt 32.29, 1Ki 3.12, Pr 16.21, Is 44.18 ’Cause discernment is part of wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what we oughta do, and doing it; it’s also knowing what we ought not do, and not doing that. We gotta recognize the difference between good and evil before we do what’s good. Otherwise we’ll get tricked into evil. We’ll do what looks wise, but is really self-deception, the product of shallow thinking… or a fraud set up by evil people.

Give you an example. Lots of people assume “natural” is always good, and “artificial” is always bad. In food, in fabric, in cleaning products, in building materials, in personality traits—doesn’t matter; what comes “natural” is good. If nature made it, eat plenty. If humans made it in a lab, avoid.

And here’s where that rationale falls apart: Tobacco is natural, but it’s awful for you. Pasteurized milk, processed in a lab, is far safer to drink than untreated raw milk. There are plenty of examples where “natural” is dangerous, and “artificial” is best. But you try telling that to some stay-at-home mom who read four websites and is now convinced vaccines are deadly.

Yep, people don’t bother with discernment. Christians included.

It’s why we fall for every Christian fad people try to sell us. Why we spread Christian-sounding sayings around, yet never double-check ’em against the scriptures. Why we embrace interesting “wisdom” but never ask “Is that from God?” Whatever makes us feel good, affirmed, righteous, excited, inspired, clever, positive—if we’re happy and we know it, we shout Amen.

As if the devil doesn’t know how to manufacture happiness.

No, it won’t be lasting happiness. The devil can’t do joy. But the fake joy only has to last long enough to lead us astray or exploit us. And if we’re foolish enough, we’re ensnared by something else long before we notice the problems in the first con. That’s precisely why we’ve gotta learn discernment: We gotta extricate ourselves from our current mess, and learn to stay away from future messes.

Start with doubt.

Part of the reason Christians don’t practice discernment, is ’cause the basis of discernment is doubt. We can’t assume everything which sounds good, is. We gotta know better than to accept just anything we hear. We need to test it. We need to test everything.

1 Thessalonians 5.19-22 KWL
19 Don’t quiet the Spirit: 20 Don’t dismiss prophecy, 21 and put everything to the test.
Hold tight to what’s good. 22 Stay far away from what seems bad.

Problem is, too many Christians have been taught—wrongly—that doubt is evil. That we’re to embrace faith, not doubt. That we’re to follow our gut, not indulge our fears. If anyone bothers to teach us there’s such a thing as discernment, we’re encouraged to think there’s no thought involved: If you feel deep down there’s something wrong, it’s not prejudice; it’s discernment. Trust your feelings. Follow your heart.

Which is the worst advice we can follow. The heart lies. Jr 17.9 It only tells us what we want to hear. Not what’s true.

Humans are selfish. That’s what we find in our hearts. Not God; our own pleasures. Self-deception. We want something so bad, we’ll rationalize it every which way. We’ll play with logic, and invent really good-sounding reasons for it. It’s okay just this once. Or the reason we’re tempted is because God actually wants us to have it. There are plenty of rationalizations which seem right to people. But they kill. Pr 14.12, 16.25

So looking within? Unsafe. We have to look without. Gotta listen to God. Gotta read the scriptures. Gotta do the hard work of figuring out truth.

Which doesn’t mean polling our friends, to find out what they think. What do they know? Unless they’re properly practicing discernment too—unless they’re testing everything like we’re supposed to—they’re gonna commit the very same mistakes we would. Yeah, we might find other people with the very same flawed logic, so we can proclaim, “I’m not alone in this! There are dozens of us! Dozens!” Justifies nothing.

We gotta doubt ourselves. Doubt other Christians. Doubt everything but God. Look at what he says. Do the homework. Observe what’s really going on. Research the facts.

And accept the results, whether we like ’em or not. There are certain things I believe which I actually don’t like. But I did the homework, so I’m pretty sure they’re true. I’m open to correction (really open, ’cause like I said, I don’t like some of those beliefs!) but I’ve studied the scriptures, and looked hard for alternatives. Those who wish to correct me: Better find some stuff I overlooked. ’Cause again: Doubt everything but God.

A little knowledge of basic logic will come in handy. ’Cause the way people usually claim they can detect faulty thinking, is with another form of faulty thinking. Like so.

  • “Yeah, but [out-of-context verse] and [bible misquote] and [passage not even in the bible]. Or don’t you trust God’s word?”
  • “I hear what you’re saying. But [famous evil person] used to believe that too, and you don’t wanna be in his camp.”
  • “You realize the logical conclusion of everybody believing that? They’ll indulge in [the most extreme-case behavior imaginable] and society will collapse.”
  • “But [famous person] teaches otherwise.”
  • “Oh, the person who taught you that is a liar.” [Stated without any evidence this person actually is a liar. Turns out it’s wholly based on not liking them.]
  • “Oh, the person who taught you that committed [heinous sin].” [Again, stated without evidence.]
  • “But [unproven statistics]—and you can’t argue with the math.”
  • “I believe [flat untruth], and that settles it.”

There’s a lot of faulty thinking out there. It’s all over the internet. And of course news channels and talk radio; you knew that. It’s in coffeehouses and pubs, in books and sermons and podcasts and tweets. People don’t discern squat. They believe as they please, and “logical arguments” are marshaled to defend these pre-held beliefs. Nobody cares whether they’re really logical.

Start by doubting them. All we care about is truth. All truth is God’s truth. We’re gonna follow it wherever it leads, even if it takes us to uncomfortable places. Even when it exposes sin in our own lives—’cause it will.

The discerning Christian learns the difference between a true statement and a fallacy. Between info we can use, and a smokescreen which scares people away, or gets ’em to stop thinking and freak out. Between stuff which jibes with the scriptures, and stuff which wholly contradicts it. Ever read my articles about context? Ever notice how all the false interpretations flip those verses 180 degrees away from their true meaning?

We got a lot of stuff to weed through.

Stop trying to connect the dots.

Last year I listened to a preacher talk about the various things he’s found in the popular media which suggest, to him, the devil’s running amok—so the End is coming. Doesn’t matter that Jesus taught us wars and rumors aren’t signs of the End; Mk 13.7 every other so-called “prophecy scholar” claims they actually are, and the preacher wholly agreed.

Fr’instance the terrorist group we call ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Did you know, he said, ISIS has the very same name as the ancient Egyptian mother-goddess Isis? The same name! It’s no coincidence, he insisted: The very same spirit behind that pagan god, is the spirit behind the terrorists.

What basis does he have for saying so? Investigative journalism? A word of knowledge? Oh, he needs neither of those things. He simply connected the dots. Come on, people, the dots are right there!

“Connect the dots, people!” has been the rationale of every paranoid theorist who wants to prove their fears. For “prophecy scholars,” the kingdom of hell is everywhere, and if it’s evil, Satan’s gotta be involved. Isn’t that obvious?

But if people need proof, they have coincidences they can point to. Because they don’t believe in coincidences. Doesn’t matter if the bible states otherwise; Ec 9.11 nothing’s random. ISIS and Isis gotta be connected!

Like I said, start with doubt. Are they really connected? Let’s do a little basic fact-checking.

The terrorists we call ISIS gave themselves the name ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fi'l-Iraq w’ash-Sham/“Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant.” (That’s why Barack Obama calls it ISIL when nobody else does. The press finds ISIS catchier.) The Levant is the eastern Mediterranean: Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Libya. That’s how far they wanna spread.

As for the goddess Isis, in ancient Egyptian she was called Aset. We got “Isis” after centuries of mangling her name through Greek and Latin before it finally made it to English. Kinda like how “Yeshua” became “Jesus.”

See, I know middle easterners don’t speak English. They don’t even use our acronym for the terrorist group; they use DAISH. I learned this in five minutes by checking the Encyclopedia Britannica. The preacher who taught this “coincidence”? He spent more time creating his slides than checking his facts. (And they were really simple slides.) Basic fact-checking turns most “prophecy scholar” theories into mush.

But for too many people, facts don’t matter. The fact it makes ’em feel something—namely fear—is all that matters. That’s what makes these “coincidences” so profound.

And fear should be our tip-off. If their “facts” are meant to provoke fear, start doubting. They’re trying to bypass the brain God gave you to discern with. We’ve got to use our heads. These “prophecy scholars” sure aren’t.

Test it against the scriptures.

Back in the olden days, before phones, email, texts, and instant messages, people waited a long time between communiques. They’d send a letter or telegram, and have to wait days—or weeks, or longer—before they’d hear back. What were they to do in the meanwhile? They could sit and wait, and go squirrelly… or they could get out their loved one’s old telegrams and letters, and read them.

Well, the bible is God’s old letters. And rather than sit there and imagine what God might say, it’s healthier and more realistic to look back on what God did say.

’Cause it’s way too easy to imagine God wrong. We’re not like God. Our sin and self-centeredness twists everything. When we try to imagine what God might say—when we speculate, “What would Jesus do?”—we invent a caricature. Sometimes as twisted as the freakish drawings in an editorial cartoon. Christians who think they know what God wants, yet never ask God himself, will go all sorts of wrong.

So read your bible! Know what God wants—’cause he said so himself in the scriptures. Get something solid to go from.

Yeah, people misread the bible. But plenty don’t. If you find one commentator who says something unique, double-check them against other commentators. If you find one preacher who claims one thing, bounce the idea off another preacher. Investigate. Make sure they’re getting God right.

Read Proverbs. It has a lot to say about discernment. For that matter, read all of the wisdom books.

Keep watching for fruit of the Spirit. If God’s involved, fruit’s gonna be there. If he’s not, people will try to pass the fake stuff off as the real thing. Learn to recognize the real thing. (Hope you’re producing the real thing.)

And lastly, keep praying for God’s insight—for the supernatural discernment. ’Cause yes, our due diligence will catch frauds and phonies. But the supernatural stuff will catch them instantly—and catch ’em where we miss them. So it’s mighty valuable.