Saturday, October 17, 2009

EfM Year 1 Chapter 4: The JE Account of Creation and the Fall in Genesis 2:4b - 3:24--Thoughts on Discernment

At our last EfM meeting, we discussed individual choice and discernment. Despite the importance of the scriptures, tradition, and the faith community past and present, I come down on the side of individual discernment.

Certainly, one can go to an extreme with individual discernment, thinking that one need not listen to anyone else and that voices from the faith community of the past are out-of-date and that we know so much better now. On the other hand, one can go to the extreme of overly revering what was said and done in the past; one's reverence for scripture, tradition, and our faith ancestors can be so great that we never change what should be changed, such as slavery or the refusal to ordain women priests.

I think that it's important to listen seriously to our faith ancestors through scripture, tradition, and the faith community's writings and voices--and I think that it's equally important to discern individually what rings true and what doesn't, what comes from God and what comes from our ancestors' personal and cultural filters. Either we discern this individually for ourselves, or we rely on the discernment of others.

If we over-rely on the discernment of others in scripture, tradition, or voices from the faith community, we get the perpetuation of unjust systems, such as the dominance/subordination model of social relationships. That's the way it was in scripture, that's the way it was for our faith ancestors, so that's the way God wants it. God has ordained a role for women that is inferior to the role of men. God finds slavery a fine acceptable social institution. God abhors all homosexual acts.

On the other hand, if we over-rely on our own discernment by rejecting any influence from the faith community, we get nuts life Saint Simon Stylites, who lived an extremely ascetic life perched for years on a tall pillar in the desert. It seems that individual discernment gone amok produces extreme masochists, who fast to the point of starvation, flagellate themselves, and crown themselves with thorns--or extreme sadists, who kill in God's name.

Even if we hear direct messages from God, either audibly or in our thoughts, we still need to exercise individual discernment. Is this voice really God? Would our faith community recognize this message as coming from God? Hearing this kind of voice can be God's message (something we need to know or are being called to do), or it can be our own selfishness (God supposedly approving what will benefit us unjustly), or it can be mental illness (God supposedly telling us to jump off a roof or crown ourselves king or exterminate an innocent person).

So I would say that we must discern individually what is God's word to us. We must not do this in a vacuum but in the context of scripture, tradition, and the faith community. Yet the responsibility for ultimate discernment is ours individually.

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