Proverbs 14:15 ESV
The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
Every day, you are presented with the same choice a myriad of times: do I believe what I am told or do I not? You can’t believe everything you’re told- that leads to stupidity like treating diseases with slightly impure water-, but if you’re like me, you also don’t want to assume everybody you talk to is just lying to you every time they open their mouths. That’s no way to live, and foolish besides, the way of the scoffer and not of wisdom. The problem, then, is to establish a set of criteria for when we can believe somebody is telling the truth, when they’re lying, and, let’s be honest, when they plain don’t know what they’re talking about (most politicians, of course, are a mixture of the first and the third).
The first question to ask is one of basic coherence to reality. If somebody tells you that aliens created mankind, perpetrated a resurrection hoax roundabout 33 A.D. (give or take a few years), and are going to return in five years to spirit away their devotees, he’s lying or delusional. How can I be so sure? Because his words do not comport with Scripture. As Galatians 1:6-9 and Acts 17:11 assure us, Scripture is the basic measuring stick for our understanding of reality. If a new idea comes along and fits with Scripture (or at least refrains from directly contradicting it), we can proceed with checking out the rest of its bona fides. If it cannot be reconciled with Scripture, though, it should be thrown out post haste. If Scripture is sufficient guide for a matter as great as the salvation of man, after all, it can hardly be insufficient for any less. Oftentimes, however, Scripture has little direct bearing on the statement you’re assessing. Whether a rock is chalk or shale is not a question Scripture concerns itself with. In addition, some statements, while connected to theological matters, are not so clear-cut as to be immediately qualified or disqualified; in these cases, while Scripture must remain the final arbiter, other measures can help in the process.
The second question to ask is one of character. Is the person who tells you this somebody you trust? How much do you trust them? Furthermore, consider the importance of the message. People who you don’t trust in business might still be trustworthy when they tell you they liked the pizza place down the road; conversely, somebody you trust to tell you the truth about the weather, the time, or his personal schedule might not be somebody you trust to watch your kids. This factor also plays into the question of their knowledge: if the person you’re talking to tends to do their homework, tends to think carefully about what they’re saying to be sure they’ve sufficient reason for surety, then you can trust their words more. Another aid, particularly when dealing with public figures, is to check where they’ve been wrong in the past, how they’ve been wrong, and whether they’ve acknowledged and corrected that wrong. Everybody gets stuff wrong at times. Inspecting this history, however, can give you an insight into which areas they can be trusted in, whether they’re afflicted with certain biases or character flaws, and whether, if they get what they’re telling you wrong, they’ll try to correct the record when it’s pointed out to them. Consider also the person’s peculiar areas of knowledge and ignorance- a chef is a much better source when he’s talking about cooking than when he discusses electoral polling.
The third question to ask is whether this statement contradicts your previous understanding of reality. If it does, how so? Sometimes, our understandings of reality are wrong. When the new information conflicts with the old, it becomes a matter of coordination and analysis, of figuring out which possibility has more evidence and more authority (credibility, etc.) on its side. Conversely, if the new information does fit with your understanding, it can be accepted- though how much trust you put into it should still vary, should still depend on the credibility of the source and the evidence which is adduced for it.
These three questions are not the be-all-and-end-all of discernment. Questions like “What evidence does he have?”’ “Is there evidence (for or against) that he missed which I have?”, and “Is this worth worrying about?” are all viable and necessary parts of the process. These three questions- correspondence to Scripture, credibility of the source, and basic consonance with your previous understanding, weighted according to the different levels of trust you extend to different parts of that understanding- they are a good place to start. Discernment, in the Biblical sense, is a skill of a lifetime, forever developing towards a perfection which will only, for us, exist in heaven. Nevertheless, by God’s grace, we will not be as the fool, who believes the liar and the reckless man; by God’s grace, we will see the truth, even the truth of God, and cast our hopes upon Him.
“Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” – Psalm 43:5
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.