Is It Discerment or Questioning God?

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(Image courtesy of sodahead.com)

Last week I wrote about one of the crucial components of righteous faith is not questioning God.  The more I thought about that post, the more I considered that it might be confusing, even misleading.  For me there is a clear distinction between discerning God’s will and questioning God.  On the surface, the two might seem interchangeable, but they clearly function differently.

To discern is to ask questions about the nature of the world, the nature of humankind, and what God would have us do.  We cannot act according to God’s will unless we have sought out what God’s will is, unless we have prayerfully asked God to reveal God’s will to us.  It does involve questions, but the intention of asking the questions is to better serve God.  This is precisely what Jesus was doing in the garden of Gethsemane the night of his betrayal.  Kneeling in the garden, he prayed about the suffering and death that was before him.  He was discerning if it was the will of the Father.  If it was, then he had every intention of doing what was asked of him.  Christ didn’t question why; he respected unequivocally the will of the Father.  He prayerfully discerned what God wanted and was prepared to do it.  As the Gospels testify, he did.

Questioning God is about demanding accountability and the reasoning behind God’s will.  As human beings, we do not posses the right to demand God account for God’s self.  We cannot understand nor fully comprehend all that is at work in the world.  We cannot demand that God justify God’s self because God is beyond human understanding, both in divine nature and ability.  We have to entrust ourselves to God and trust in God’s reasons for acting or not acting.  God has promised that God will ultimately bring about goodness and justice, and we have to hold fast to that promise rather than constantly demanding that God explain everything that occurs when we lack the big perspective.  Jesus didn’t ask why he had to suffer and die.  Certainly as God he knew, but his human nature had to trust.  He had to be willing to go forward even in the face of physical pain, humiliation, and death.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  We are asked to follow, not seek to know why we have a cross, or why we have to carry it.  That is questioning God.  Take it up and follow Jesus.  We can ask what our individual cross is as they all vary.  We can ask God to show us where to go and seek God’s help in bearing our burden.  Those are questions of discernment.  They provide the insight we as Christians need to see what God would have us do and where God is leading us.

When we are young in our faith, we ask questions to learn who God is and understand as best we can the nature of God.  The time comes when we have enough of an experience with God and have grown in our relationship that God expects us to spend less time asking questions about the nature of things, and spend more time asking about what God would have us do about them.  I don’t need to understand all the inner workings of the human nature to understand that we are sinful beings.  I don’t need to know why we are sinful, but I do need to know how I can overcome my sinful impulses and live as a disciple of Christ.  The difference can be subtle, but whenever we find our questions implying that God owes us answers, we discover that we are treading on the very ground that is built upon human desire for knowledge and justification, rather than the solid rock of Jesus Christ that calls for faith.  Questioning God makes us stop in our tracks, but seeking discernment is about continuing to more forward and onward with Christ.

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