Much of the good old Church of England allegedly works by discernment. That’s not as in “a discerning palate” where someone can identify the year a wine was made while they are blindfold. No, it’s as in discerning a route across a mire in thick fog. The Church (by which I mean the people who are the Church) tries to work out what people are good at, which people would be good at certain things in the future, who is excellent with drains right now…and so on. I’ve spent the years before college, before ordination, and during curacy, trying to discern what God wants me to do – sometimes strategically, sometimes very specifically.
The trouble with discernment is we are not always very good at it. Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I hit my bad leg on a metal bar, rather hard. (This is not a good thing.) Because of what has happened to it already, the nerve endings are often confused, and bits of my leg are numb. If I hurt a bit which is partially numb, then my nerves and brain don’t know how to translate all the signals, so instead of feeling pain yesterday, I felt very very sick. It wasn’t until the signals began to settle down, some hours later, that I could properly feel the pain. If I just explained how I felt yesterday as “suddenly I began to feel very very sick” then you might deduce that I had picked up a bug, had eaten something dodgy, or even that I was pregnant (certainly not the last!). You wouldn’t deduce, discern, that I had just hurt my leg – and why should you?
The problem with discerning anything is that we don’t have all the facts. Sometimes that’s because the facts haven’t happened yet, sometimes it’s because we haven’t been told something important, sometimes it’s because we haven’t realised the significance of something apparently tiny. Discernment is hard work.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see face to face.” 1 Corinthians 13:12