Discernment (discrimination, sound judgment)

This is entry 1 of the blogchain Decision Help.


Discernment is a gift of God (1 Cor 12:10) that allows us to accurately identify causes and predict likely futures. Discernment is the process of thinking, feeling, and praying through an issue that results in decisions about the way things are or have been, the way things should be, and possibly, about how one ought to move in the present to a desired future.

Discernment grounds our decisions in reality—God’s providence and principles. Bad decisions are the outgrowth of lacking discernment. When we fail to see the world correctly, we make choices that go against the grain of reality and bear painful consequences. According to John Cassian (Conference 2.2-3), “the blessed Antony” makes this point by way of Jesus’ words about the eye as the lamp of the body in Matthew 6:22-23:

For this is discretion, which is termed in the gospel the “eye,” “and light of the body,” according to the Saviour’s saying: “The light of thy body is thine eye: but if thine eye be single, thy whole body will be full of light, but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body will be full of darkness:” because as it discerns all the thoughts and actions of men, it sees and overlooks all things which should be done. But if in any man this is “evil,” i.e., not fortified by sound judgment and knowledge, or deceived by some error and presumption, it will mike our whole body “full of darkness,” i.e., it will darken all our mental vision and our actions, as they will be involved in the darkness of vices and the gloom of disturbances. For, says He, “if the light which is in thee be darkness, how great will that darkness be!” For no one can doubt that when the judgment of our heart goes wrong, and is overwhelmed by the night of ignorance, our thoughts and deeds, which are the result of deliberation and discretion, must be involved in the darkness of still greater sins.

When we fail to see the world correctly, we stumble. But when our decisions flow from discernment, that is, when they are grounded in reality, our decisions can become steps to success. “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24v3-4). Wisdom, of course, is guided supremely by the scriptures, by which God discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And by success, I don’t mean mere material success. Discretion, as John Cassian put it, is also the mother, guardian, and regulator of all the virtues.

So if you want to choose the right path, you must first learn to see.

Christopher Chelpka @christopherchelpka