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Posts Tagged ‘Discernment’

Wonderment is a valuable thing. It causes you to ask questions and seek answers. But where might one find answers? For meaning and life, the best and reliable source is the Bible. For beauty and function the best source is the second book of revelation, nature (see “Two Books” for why).

I have been contemplating the idea of wisdom lately. As a grey headed grandfather of seven, I reckon I am supposed to have a bit of that. I have a bit perhaps but feel woefully lacking. By contrast, Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens.” Certainly He has no lack of wisdom and did not have to acquire it, deepen it, or perfect it. Out of His abundance of perfect wisdom “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Therefore, belonging to Him, I have hope of obtaining a measure of wisdom.

But what is wisdom, why do we need it, and how do we get it?

As I began to look in Proverbs, I observed in chapter two the use of four words in rapid succession, as if repetition meant they were different words for the same thing: wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and understanding. I wondered, how they are related and how they are different. Do they build upon one another or are they different words for the same idea?

I like to come to some level of completion or satisfaction in the study of an idea. I looked up definitions and key passages. I checked the Hebrew words for the various words. And that was when I realized that I was beginning a study that I will not soon finish. The same Hebrew word was frequently translated as different English words. Knowledge seems to be separate, but the other three somewhat interchangeable. I like for words to have exact meanings. Of course, language develops by usage and exact meanings are never going to happen. Even if someone prescribes a meaning, say Noah Webster for instance, the common misuse or connotative use can destroy any simple, straightforward use of a word. So I set out first of all to define terms as would be helpful in my study of them. Following are definitions I am developing for these four words drawn from dictionaries, the Scripture, and experience. 

Truth is information that aligns with reality. It is the basis of all pursuit of wisdom. “He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit.” (Proverbs 12:17) I have added this word because of its foundational status. If there is no truth then seeking wisdom is a fool’s game never to be accomplished. We live in a culture that argues that there is no truth, but then all other discussion becomes meaningless. No one actually operates on the basis of no truth as seen in the fact that most people do life preservative avoidance moves to continue living (you know, things like stopping at red lights and not jumping off of cliffs without aid of parachute or wingsuit).

Knowledge is awareness and familiarity with truth, facts, skills, and propositions. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Prudence is acting now in a way that prepares for the future. Knowledge is useful for the future.

Understanding is the ability to grasp the meaning and value of knowledge and its relationship to other ideas. Proverbs 9:6 says, “Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding.” It is the man of understanding who may acquire and act by wisdom. Contemplating knowledge and how it should be applied leads to understanding. For this reason, it is rare for those who do not consider and muse to gain understanding.

Discernment is the process of evaluating the causes and outcomes of an event. Proverbs 1:2 says, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding.” Instruction is a word meaning discipline and is part of a disciple’s knowledge. In the verse, discernment is making use of understanding.

Wisdom is appropriate action fitted to the situation based on consideration of prudent and right judgement. “Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her. ‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.'” (Proverbs 8:10-12) Wisdom is the goal because it helps the wise and those under the wise person’s care and gives glory to God, the Author of wisdom.

I have defined these terms in this order because I think that they build upon one another in this particular order. Truth is the basis of knowledge which may lead to understanding, allowing for discernment in a situation, upon which wisdom for action is developed.

Or more simply      T -> K -> U -> D -> W

Obviously, these skills develop in fits and starts and various orders as a situation, study, prayer, or illumination occurs, but I think they are well thought of in this order because of increasing complexity and need of the preceding ones to accomplish.

If I develop clarity on how they are differentiated and taught in Scripture, I will try to share that here. Until then, may God give us wisdom for the living of these days so that we might be like “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times.” (I Chronicles 12:32)

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I haven’t blogged for one month now. I dislike not putting my thoughts down, but the last month has been an wholly unexpected whirlwind. Added to my absence from the blog was the 3-week loss of my journal. I use composition notebooks of the kind you might use in a science lab. This morning I found it. I decided that as time allows I will read back through it. The second entry was concerning a Bible study I had done about Jesus reading in the synagogue, His inaugural speech as it were. He read Isaiah 61:1-2a:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord…”

Then He stops, mid-thought, mid-sentence, and hands the scroll back to the synagogue official, saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). Jesus was proclaiming the purpose and purview of His ministry. The reason He stopped at this exact place in the passage was “Today”, namely His 1st advent to Earth, it was “fulfilled”. The next parts, “And the day of vengeance of our God, …to comfort all who mourn, …they will rebuild the ancient ruins, …everlasting joy will be theirs,” (Isaiah 61:2b&c, 4a, 7d) refer to His second advent, followed immediately by the Millennium and Eternity Future. 

Now, I know that this points to a certain theological perspective, but I am neither ashamed of it nor have any particular doubts about the general outline of it. In fact, my more than usual intense reading of the minor prophets this summer solidified and deepened my conviction that God still has a plan for physical Israel both to judge the majority and to save the remnant in order to fulfill all of the promises He has made and not yet completed. Many of these prophecies are just too clearly oriented to the blessings of land and nation to be spiritualized away. We who are spiritual Israel, which I believe includes the saved remnant of physical Israel, will participate in those blessings during the Millennium.

I had a small diagram in my journal that shows how prophecy frequently teaches us about future events. It is not at all new to me, but I like to put things down and add detail as I am able.

Prophetic View

No diagram, analogy, type, or metaphor can ever be a complete explanation of  the reality, but they may be accurate to the extent they are intended to explain the reality. The prophet is thought to not be able to see the valleys, because God is just revealing the mountaintops of future events. However, some of the events of the Inter-testamental Period (Silent years) are revealed in Daniel’s vision in chapter 11. Antiochus Epiphanes (though not named) is given as a type of the the Antichrist. So, the Inter-testamental Bad Guy and the “Day of the Lord” Antichrist are featured in the same prophecy.

This is a frequent pattern in prophecies. There is a near or historical (from our perspective) fulfillment and a future and/or spiritual fulfillment. David can truthfully groan, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1), and yet be simultaneously and more completely revealing the crucifixion of Christ a thousand years later. So, the prophet Isaiah proclaims that “The Spirit of God is upon me,” and God is saying that Jesus will say and do these things later over several periods of time.

To place this Isaiah 61 passage on my diagram above, I would understand to to look something like the following:

Prophet          Near Fulfillment        1st advent           2nd advent     Millennium        Eternity

Isaiah 61:1-9      good news to the   “The Spirit…          “day of           “comfort      “everlasting
afflicted              favorable year”      vengeance”      all who mourn…    joy” .          portion in                                                                                                                                                 their land”

If I were to add or change anything in my diagram, it would be to add some labeled glasses on the prophet which read, “Holy Spirit vision”. We all need discernment and discretion and these come solely from God (Proverbs 2:1-12).

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Time to graduate some students. It is a time for smiles and celebration and happy tears. The education we give our young is too focussed on knowledge and understanding devoid of moral evaluation, too lacking in wisdom for living and discernment for awareness of various dangers. I hope that I may be a mentor in thoughtful and careful living.

Knowledge leads to understanding
This path will serve you very well
To your mind and heart rewarding
In interactions it will tell

Acquire wisdom in your youth
Always prudent to do what’s right
Acting kindly along with truth
With wisdom overcoming might

Many deceived by false knowledge
Seek that you may discernment find
That at home or work or college
By truth delivered, sharp of mind

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