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Discernment

29 Mar. 2012 Posted by John Snyder in Through a Glass Darkly

Often discerning men find themselves dismayed by the reasoning presented by parties in an argument.  That is not to say that there are only two sides to an argument, but in the manner of adversarial combat, war and legal cases, in the philosophical tradition of disputed questions, things seem to resolve themselves into two camps.  From my own experience both sides are often wrong, or only partially right, or right for the wrong reasons, or wrong for the right reasons.  

Adversarial parties are often both wrong.  Often they fail to understand the merits and weaknesses of their own arguments.  This is why Christians should be careful about rushing into adversarial arguments, because, all parties, however bright in appearance, gain luster from the post-lapsarian propensity to reflect things only from their own point of view.  Or to place a Christian gloss on it: fallenness makes men cherry pick facts. It makes men into dissimulators, distorters, magnifiers of small things.  Sometimes they are just plain liars. Parties in a case often lose proportionality, objectivity.  To use legal terminology: parties often do not have clean hands.  In the canons of law: no man can be a judge in his own case.  In the words of Jesus: remove the beam from your own eye first. 

Often both parties have contributed to a wrong. And it is important to place those wrongs before the jury of opinion, the people and men who must judge. This is not just so that you may plead your case hope of equity, but, perhaps more, to carry forward Jesus’ metaphor, that we, ourselves, may see more clearly and discern the true enemy with whom we contend.  And that enemy is not man or other men.  It is not the other party across the aisle. It is something else, something inside of us, and abusive to us.  

Despite all confusion and manipulation, Christians must not remove themselves from difficult controversies out of some rarified scholastic insistence that facts are too large to be courted. In a world  where we often must pick lesser evils, Christians must remain faithful to the facts and not allow narratives and convenient half-truths to prevail.  Christians must move and act in a fallen world according to wisdom, discernment and truth. This is why listening to opposing arguments is so important.

This is why facts are important.  

In antiquity there was an expression, "Let justice be done, thought the heavens fall." Christians fortunately do not live in the pagan world, and justice, when it prevails never shakes the foundation of heaven. Justice and truth are the substance of God Himself, and nothing that is true and righteous altogether, stands opposed to God. Lies do, however. Half-truths do. Dissimulations do.  

The tragedy is that men in a fallen world are presented often, in the public square, with two misrepresentations, two conceptions, two paradigms, two points-of-view that are not fully developed or thought-through.  Both are ill conceived.  We are told we must choose between two poisoned fruits.

For this reason, we must remember that in the world for which we contend, the enemy of truth, the villain in the great story of shame, tragedy and strife, is not an opposing band of “bad guys.” It is not Caesar, or Tsar, neither Napoleon, nor Hitler or Stalin, but rather the enemy of man is the poison of sin nature itself.

The appetite and the instinct of the storyteller to render the human drama entirely in black and white, means that one party is without sin, and the other, has no humanity at all.  The challenge of overcoming this fallen instinct in the construction of the post-lapsarian story of good and evil is to remain faithful to the facts of human fallenness without discarding the truth that the primeval story of conflict is an undiluted tale of vast warfare between undiluted good and evil absolute.  That warfare is a warfare older than the world, fought by being more perfect than ourselves.  God and his invisible enemies contend for the seat of heaven, and all human conflict, in every aspect of earthly endeavor is but a pale shadow of the original and immemorial collision of truth and falsehood.  That drama is played out in our little world in a vast universe of time, space, thought, ideas and history so large we may see it from time to time, only through the obscurity of a glass darkly.  

Yet, we may comprehend it according to the lights that God has given us.

Mankind is infected with falsehoods that move in the invisible air around us.  We breathe them in by nostrils and mouths, by eyes, books, conversations.  It is the pollution that stifles the air we breathe, the atmosphere into which we speak.  It is those apparitional desires, thoughts, ideas and beliefs that are the agents of evil.  And they are not man qua man, but something moving in him and acting on him.  

This intangible thing infects man’s mind, and then his tongue and then the ears of other men whose minds are then corrupted, and makes us carriers of falsehood without knowing that we bear death in our words and in the exhalations of our thoughts.  This “power of the air” is the true enemy.  And all arguments, in every court, every subterfuge, every war, every betrayal, every conspiracy, every idolatry, is borne from this invisible thing, who is not Caesar or Herod or any corrupt prince, or an unjust judge, not Pilate or Roger Taney. It is this invisible thing that destroys man and turns him into something he was never meant to be.  It deforms him into the body of a monster while imprisoning the truth written on his heart in a callous sepulchre of unfeeling, insensate hardness impenetrable to fact or reason or the ordinary lights of decency.

This thing is the first and greatest enemy of mankind.  It is this perverse power of man first to deceive himself and then to spread that deception by the earnestness of his misunderstanding.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus, himself, entreated His Father in the very hour of his death, to forgive us for this dreadful disease of not knowing what we are doing.  Yet, we must ask, why then must we be forgiven if we are mere victims of this silent deadly thing?

Because we have a duty to know better.  There is a truth written on our hearts that we are accomplices in destroying.

In the world of adversarial arguments, talking points, political maneuverings, strategies and situational ethics, discernment is the mark of a Christian—the ability to see things as they are, not as they are narrated to us.  To apprehend, and to achieve a wisdom of seeing, such that the force of events does not channel us into the narrow perception that carries us swiftly into an open ocean of falsehood.

We must admit when we are wrong. And we must remain faithful to the truth, even when we are accused by our friends of betraying them when they are deceived by half-truths and dissimulations.

And more, the Christians knows when to act, and when to restrain from acting. He knows that the enemy of man and all things precious to him is not other men per se, not the council who rebuts with falsehoods, not the ruler who precipitates war by projection of his own aggression, not the murderer, not the racists, not democrats, socialists, Mormonism, Muslims, or Republicans, not the thief, or the adulterer, but the real enemy is a disease and corruption of mind and heart, the noetic effects that destroy our power to wisely discern between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, God and all counterfeits.  

Even more, the Christian girds himself against the natural instinct to see men as villains.  Rather he cultivates  compassion, even as a soldier who must kill for the preservation of the right. Rather he can fight and still see men who act under the authority and power of evil as victims of a disease, a disease so virulent and horrible, that sometimes, he must bar them with swords from carrying the disease into the city.  That is what the entire conflict is.  

Christians must remember that the parties are not the arguments themselves.  That the sin and the sinner are two things apart, though they are indistinguishable to human eye, it is the discernment of the Christian taught by his Messiah that differentiates in a dark world matters and invisible thing no secular eye can see.

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