Monday, April 13, 2020


If the current condition we find ourselves in has revealed anything, it has shown us our need for a long-lost skill that seems to be lacking in a lot of places in our world: discernment.

Discernment is the ability to determine where truth lies in any given situation. It's the ability to cut through the junk, throw out the hyperbole, and figure out what it is that is real and true and vital and worth building your life around.

We are living in a world that has become increasingly relativistic in its conception of truth in the past few decades. As a culture, we have pushed against the notion of any kind of universal truth, any kind of reality that is real for everyone. We have been taught that it's inappropriate to question what someone else believes because we should assume they have their reasons for believing, just the same as we do. We have been told that judging another man's truth is the same as judging that man himself, and if we try to make a claim against his truth, we are making a claim against him - we must be bigoted or phobic or simply hateful and hypocritical. We live in a world that has staunchly declared, 'What is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me.'

No wonder that now, when we are in desperate need of knowing truth, so many of us have no idea where to find it.

For some, truth is whatever the authorities say that it is. It's the stuff you see coming out of the official press briefings from all the guys with titles by their names - President, doctor, commissioner, governor, whatever. These are the men and women who have invested their lives in this kind of stuff, so they should know best. For some, truth must be the opposite of whatever the authorities say that it is. It's all a massive conspiracy, a cover-up. It's meant to keep us from seeing something else that they're drawing our eyes away from. Persons in authority are not to be trusted.

For some, truth is what they can see with their own eyes. It depends upon what they can verify in their own experience. For some, truth is what they can be shown. If there appears to be real evidence of it somewhere, then that's enough for them.

For some, truth is political. For some, it's religious. For some, it's social.

Right now, we are seeing all of the things that we have done to truth, claiming that it has always been whatever we've needed it to be, but we are discovering that actually, we just need truth. We just need truth to be actually true. We need it to transcend our narrow understanding of it or it just doesn't work. Unfortunately, what we are discovering is that we don't know how to let go of our narrow definitions of it to embrace anything larger than we've previously held.

The truth about truth is that it's somewhere in the middle. It's not everything the authorities say, but neither is it everything they aren't saying. It's not what you can see, but beyond your vision. At the same time, it's not something you can never see; it's right at your own fingertips. It's not political, but it's not apolitical. It's not religious, but it's not irreligious. It's not social, but it doesn't exist in isolation.

Discernment comes in when we're trying to figure out what truth is. And it's not so much about asking what is true and what is not true, but rather about asking how the truth that we're given is true. What angle is it coming from? What point is it trying to prove? How is the truth we're given trying to be used? Because if truth is being weaponized to coerce a certain response (and in a postmodern society, it very often is), then discernment is our ability to dull its sword and stand courageously on the solid ground that lies somewhere in the middle.

That's the kind of questioning we've lost sight of in our willingness to believe whatever we are prone to believe. In our own understanding of what truth is, we lean naturally toward simple acceptance of that sort of truth but do not see the ways in which it tries to blind us. And the truth (sorry) is that from our limited human perspective, whatever angle we see truth from will inherently blind us to other aspects of it.

For everything we see, there is something we do not see. For everything we know, there is something we don't know.

So the first question of discernment is: what do we know? But the second question is just as important: what don't we know? And why don't we know it?

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