posted on Aug, 7 2020 @ 05:00 PM
Discernment is the act of recognising the distinction between two categories.
Judgement is the act of recognising a preference between the two categories.
In the Biblical perspective, true and final judgement is God’s work, not ours.
Yet we may and must exercise our discernment, an obligation imposed by the lines of division between two categories which fill every part of the
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
There is the most fundamental division, right from the start.
On the one hand, the Creator. On the other hand, what was created.
Because creation has no independent existence, the relationship between the two is asymmetrical.
Beyond the initial distinction between God and the created world, there is a distinction within the created world between what is, and what is
not, in line with God’s will.
And again this division is asymmetrical. The two sides of the boundary line do not have equal value. What is right (being God’s will) takes
precedence over what is not right, just as the Creator himself takes precedence over his created world..
The fault of Adam and Eve was that they claimed the right to know the boundary line between right and wrong by their own independent judgement.
In other words, they parted from God’s judgement, and thus parted from God’s will.
The rest of the Bible is about the long project of bringing us back into harmony with God’s will.
One of the first steps in this journey is the re-discovery of the true boundary between good and evil, the boundary which follows God’s
That is the intended purpose of the Law. The Law provided by Moses fulfils that purpose imperfectly, but it serves to encourage people and train
people to look for the difference between the two.
The fundamental distinction in the Law is between “treating people the right way” and “treating people the wrong way”, and I looked at the
social side of the Law in a previous series.
But the difference is also expressed in the ritual distinctions between “holy and unholy”, and between “clean and unclean”. I looked at some
of these distinctions in recent threads, including the difference between clean and unclean food-animals, and the difference between clean and unclean
states of health. Different seeds were not to be mixed together. I noted how any association with death is regarded as “unholy”.
So “clean or unclean” is one way of describing the difference between “right and not-right”. These ritual distinctions, trivial in themselves,
are analogues of the distinction between good and evil.
One effect of this elaborate structure of rules was that they get people’s minds into the habit of looking for distinctions. This, in turn (though
it doesn’t always work) gets them trained into looking for the one distinction that really matters- the distinction between good and evil.
The New Testament
The New Testament has given us the injunction “Do not judge” (Matthew ch7 v1),
Modern people try to turn this into a prohibition of discernment, which is why it is important to understand the difference.
“Discernment” is about recognising that there is a distinction between good and bad, between right and wrong, and trying to apply that distinction
in human conduct.
When Jesus warns us against “judging”, he means the act of applying that judgement on human individuals, for which we are not qualified.
“Do not judge” is frequently quoted in response to criticism, as though Jesus meant “You must never say that something is wrong”.
But that cannot be right, because “Do not judge” itself is a declaration that something is wrong (viz. the act of judging). So anyone who quotes
it in that sense is condemning himself- “I say that it is wrong to say that something is wrong”.
And if the original command had that meaning, it would have been contradicting itself.
The rest of the teaching of Jesus makes it clear that the distinction between right and wrong has not been abolished, and needs to be observed.
Everything that Jesus tells us about what we should or should not do is confirming that there is a difference.
That is why we are obliged to exercise our discernment.
We may not judge, on our own authority, but the New Testament makes it clear that there will be judgement.
One way or another, people are dividing themselves into those belonging, or not belonging, to God.
Jesus gives us the parable of the wheat and the tares (another example of seed-mixing).
The angels of the Son of man will gather in, separately, his elect (Matthew ch24 v31) and the evildoers and causes of sin (Matthew ch13 v41).
Other images relating to the separation include the division between those who sit at the table and those cast into outer darkness (Matthew ch8
vv11-12), and the division between the sheep and the goats (Matthew ch25 vv32-33).
Paul distinguishes between those who will receive “rest” and those who will receive “vengeance” when Christ returns (2 Thessalonians ch1
In Revelation ch21, there are those who reside in the new Jerusalem and those who are excluded.
There is nothing to suggest that the two categories will ever be merged into one.
In other words, there is no promise of universal salvation.
When philosophy makes categories disappear, that has the effect of abolishing judgement, because it removes the standards by which judgement is
carried out, and even removes the possibility of a dangerous “Other” by whom we might be judged.
I sometimes think that might account for the popularity of that kind of approach.
But that is not the Bible.
The Bible brings us face to face with a God who has the right to judge, and a human obligation of discernment in accordance with his will.