As we come to learn more about the tragic events which have taken place in Paris, it is natural for us to feel a strong mixture of feelings. In the midst of our suffering and our pondering, we should also recognize that the contemplative and spiritual tradition of Christianity has a lot to offer us both in terms of how to allow ourselves to suffer the pain of tragedy and how to discover God’s will. In the coming days and weeks, leaders will be faced with important decisions as to how to respond, and the voices of good people have an integral role in shaping that response.
That is why understanding discernment is more important than ever. Discernment does not mean that we abnegate our decision-making responsibility for some pie-in-the-sky solution. It does not mean that we proof-text the scripture as some kind of Genie in a bottle that will read us our fortune. Many non-Christians can struggle with the notion of seeking God’s will precisely because it seems to shift responsibility and they think that this can lead to a kind of blind fanaticism.
However, while scripture is rich with passages that help us to make good decisions, discernment is not a mindless activity in which believers copy and paste ready made solutions. Rather, the true Christian must internalize the beautiful world of paradoxes and sound doctrines that populate the scriptures, and learn to allow these insights to form both intuitive and analytic processes of decision-making. Thus, we must learn to move beyond the notion that scripture is a long list of prescriptions that must be mindlessly obeyed. What is important to both Biblical theology and the Christian tradition that followed is the central role of prudence, discernment, and wisdom in learning how to integrate moral truths into concrete action.
This notion of decision-making recognizes that varying circumstances call forth a variety of possible solutions. Along these lines to make good decisions, we must practice a true discernment which is grounded in experience, intuition, and a intellect formed by the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Even if a society formed in this way chooses the path of war and confrontation, the spiritual foundation of a contemplative vision of reality allows for a spiritual freedom that is able to move beyond hatred and petty self-interest. Ultimately, it is sin which destroys our ability to respond to God’s will and to act in harmony with the Holy Spirit.
Thus, the first step in good decision making is individual conversion. For us to move forward, we must always walk the path of turning to the Lord with complete surrender and saying, “Not my will, but your will. Not my way of thinking, but your way of thinking.” I do not know what France’s or the United State’s response should be to this tragedy, but I know how we should go about making that decision.
Father Ian. Thank you for the time that you spend daily with our Lord. Your well formed insights are a beautiful moment in my quiet times, reminiscent of when I first read Psalm 119. It is good to be reminded often of the beauty of desiring closeness with our Lord.