I’ve been doing a lot of work on discernment lately, right up to and including laying groundwork for creating a discernment center. Then I ran across an article suggesting that discernment is impossible. The author argued that knowing the mind of God is, in principle, not possible for human beings so, therefore, the whole enterprise of discernment is doomed to failure before it ever begins.
Is the great I Am, a God whose very name surrounds the Holy One in sacred mystery, essentially unknowable? Does the truth that Isaiah speaks, that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God’s ways (Is. 55:8), mean in principle that we cannot discern the will of God? Can we never know God’s ways, or God’s will for our way?
I believe we can. What’s more, I believe that our primary task is to seek this truth and pursue it with all the energy, imagination and passion we have to give it.
After all, the same Isaiah assures us that God does not speak in secret, in a land of darkness (Is. 45:19). And, while we may not be able to boast with certainty about God’s will with respect to every strategy we pursue, scripture is pretty clear about the directions we ought to follow.
What does the Lord require of us? Micah is pretty confident of his discernment of God’s will around that question: do justice, love kindly, walk humbly with our God.
Micah’s words form our listening tube for the work of discernment, our screen for sifting, our framework for understanding. In other words, do the work of discernment on the basis of doing justice, loving tenderly — as the Jerusalem Bible translates it — and walking humbly with God.
We know, from the witness of scripture and from the history of people of faith like Bonhoeffer and King, that God calls us to the work of justice. So, as we listen for God’s call and claim on the particulars of our own lives — where should I work, where should I spend my money, where should I spend my time — we listen with attention to issues of justice that are before us.
Walter Breuggemann says the Biblical definition of justice amounts to this: sorting out what belongs to whom, and returning it to them. With respect to the question of call, what’s at stake is simply this: our lives belong to God, just discernment is about returning those lives to God.