Before we consider the role of reason in spiritual discernment, I want to mention I comment I received on yesterday’s post. A concern was raised regarding God’s involvement in our experiences. Specifically, that God does not cause bad things to happen in our lives so that we will learn a lesson. This is a very important point! Rather than simply make a passing comment on this concern, I will address it in my first post for next week.
A solid faith is a thinking faith. God blessed us with the gift of reason, and it is a gift that must not remain unused. Reason helps us to apply what we learn, think deeply about our beliefs and experiences, and share the truth with others. As we wrestle through experiences, questions, and doubts, we strengthen our faith, and refine its impact upon our lives.
John Wesley believed that Scripture was sufficient unto itself, and the foundation of true religion. Yet, he understood the value of reason. He said, “Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles.” Rather than merely memorizing truths and doctrine, he encouraged people of faith to reflect deeply and grow in their understanding.
Over the course of my ministry, numerous people have inquired about the best way to get around doing the study and thinking for themselves. One person was even quite straightforward in their request, “I really don’t want to think about all this, ” they said, “Can’t you just tell me what to believe and do?” I don’t think they liked my answer, but loving leadership does not just tell people all the answers. We need to engage our faith in thoughtful ways in order to truly understand it, and live it.
Yesterday, I was blessed to have lunch with a friend and colleague. He and I hold many things in common, but we also see some things quite differently. During our conversation, we engaged some significant issues. Rather than argue our positions in an attempt to convince the other, we shared our thoughts and positions in order for both of us to grow in our understanding. I am still unpacking some of the powerful things he said, and will be for some time. His words drove me back to Scripture, Tradition, and my experience, causing me to reason through some things I strongly believe. I may discover that I need to adjust my position, or I may better understand, and express, what I already believe. Either way, reasoning together, and on my own, will be worth the effort.
This leads to an important point. Incorporating reason in our spiritual discernment involves more than just our own thoughts. We need to listen to, and engage, the reasoning of others. While our faith is deeply personal, it is never private. We are a community of faith, and each person has something of great value to bring to the discussion. We need to value others, even those who radically disagree with us, so that together, we can discern the will of God.
A final thought worth consideration is that our reasoning is not just about our human abilities. Christian reason is always assisted by the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (14:26) Truth faith is not of our own making, it is grounded in the revelation of God. To rightly reason regarding God’s involves a harmony of my thoughts, the thoughts of the community of faith, and the instruction of the Holy Spirit.
A Bonus Note
While the heart of the discernment process involves these four steps, Wesley did include a final step in his practice as a litmus test of our insight. Knowing that we can travel down wrong paths, even with the best of intentions, he encouraged taking our discoveries and testing their agreement with Scripture. Since the Bible is the foundation for true religion, any revelation we receive must remain consistent with the teaching of Scripture. Just as we must check our math after solving a problem, so we must check our theological discovery against the word before we accept it. We may find that we reasoned well, or we may need to revisit the process to discover where we went off track. Either way, we will continue to grow though our reflection, our conversations, and our listening to the Holy Spirit.
May your weekend be blessed, and your days ahead, as you grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.