Discernment is sorely needed today. It always is. But more of us are keenly aware of the need right now. Playing out on the biggest political stage in the world, the election of the American President, is an exercise in leadership and moral discernment for the American electorate unlike any in living memory. In some ways, it’s unprecedented.
There are Christians I deeply respect taking opposing positions. Discernment is leading some to support one major party candidate and some the other, and some a third party candidate, and some a write-in candidate, and some to leave the presidential option ballot blank, voting only on congressional and local candidates. I have my own plan, based on what I discern to be the best path (at least for now). That may change between now and November 8, depending on the possibility of new information or new options.
In personal conversations I make my case, but I also try to listen well. There is nothing simple about this election, and the moral and policy issues at stake are serious and sobering. I throw no stones at my brothers and sisters whose discernment is different than mine. I understand most of the rationales I hear from spiritually mature and discerning friends and family, even if my discernment is leading differently.
As the election nears, I hope most Christians — and not just American Christians, considering the global fallout of U.S. economic and foreign policy decisions — find themselves pleading in their prayers, “Lord, give us (or give them) discernment!”
How Does God Give Us Discernment?
We all want to be discerning people. We want to walk wisely in a world of deception that makes fools of even the most brilliant. But how do we become skilled in discernment? The writer of Hebrews tells us:
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
Our discernment is trained through the rigorous exercise of constant practice.
Do you know what that means? It means that God puts us in difficult situations every day, and forces us to confront complexities that press us to the limits (and beyond) of our wisdom and understanding. We get thrown curve balls. At times it feels like we are in a maze, or in a room of funhouse mirrors, where everything we see is distorted. We feel confused, sometimes at the end of ourselves, because the issues involved are weighty and important — experiences not unlike this presidential election.
First Century Christians
The Christians who originally received the letter to the Hebrews lived in a world hostile to the gospel. Everything they had been taught and believed was under attack and they were confused.
- False teachers claimed that Jesus was an angelic being rather than very God of very God, the Creator of the universe (Hebrews 1–2).
- Others questioned whether Jesus truly was a greater prophet than Moses (3:1–6).
- Some were tempted to give up, disillusioned by continual opposition and persecution, and needed reminding that the Hebrews of Moses’s day had forfeited the Promised Land by giving up (3:7–4:13).
- Some were losing confidence in the new covenant Jesus had inaugurated, and were tempted to return to the old covenant (4:14–10:18).
- Some had lost sight of the fact that God had always only been pleased when his people followed him by faith (10:19–12:2).
- Most of them needed reminding that the adversity they endured was the merciful discipline of a loving heavenly Father to help them persevere till they inherited an imperishable promised kingdom (12:3–29).
And they needed reminding that spiritual maturity is gained through the constant practice of discernment.
Something Bigger Than Elections
We need to be reminded, too, because we too are in a spiritual war and under constant assault. God is calling us to spiritual maturity through our difficult, confusing, sometimes exasperating individual, family, and church situations (as well as our national ones). We are not to begrudge them. There is more mercy in them than we see, for they force us by constant practice to ransack the written word of God, get it in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), and grow in prayerfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and in discernment.
There are far bigger things at stake in our becoming discerning people than the coming election. The United States, and every other nation, is just a drop in the bucket in the eyes of God (Isaiah 40:15). God’s primary concern is his holy nation, the church of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9).
The main thing happening around the world is not in news headlines, but what is happening in and through the church. What history is all about is the coming of Christ, his work of redemption, the spread of his gospel, and the ingathering of all his people from all the peoples into his church (Matthew 24:14; 28:19–20) — something the gates of hell will not withstand, much less human governments (Matthew 16:18). The more discerning we are, the greater benefit we bring to the church of God.
That means there is great mercy for us and others, for our local churches and the global church, in God doing whatever it takes to make us more spiritually mature and discerning men and women. The fruit of our suffering and wrestling is never only for us, but also for the good of our brothers and sisters.
Whatever It Takes!
God has many purposes in the American presidential election. He is so powerful, so brilliant, and so complex in his providential weaving of history that it may be entirely possible for discerning Christians to vote differently in good conscience and yet all be serving the mysterious layers of God’s perfect will.
God knows how to tear down the proud (Proverbs 15:25), humiliate the devil and his angels (Colossians 2:15), and keep his saints walking by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). And he often orchestrates events in such a way that no one fully sees his stunning victory coming, until it bursts upon us like a thief in the night. God will reveal to us all someday how all the raging of the nations served to do what his hand and his plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:25–28).
Let us not try and trace all the threads of his glorious providential tapestry. Instead, let us pursue spiritual maturity by making this our prayer:
Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my ability to discern good from evil through the rigorous exercise of constant practice.