For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. --Jeremiah 29: 8-9
One of the things I have found most difficult during this season is that we have all had to become amateur epidemiologists. We have been learning as we go, looking towards trusted voices and research. But some-times the facts contradict one another. Sometimes the experts say different things. We’ve had to learn to research credentials, to evaluate studies – are they peer reviewed? How large was the sample size? Is there a bias with the sample, the researcher, or even the region? Where was this study published and how did I hear about it? Sometimes we discern that a study with a small sample size or published somewhere we’ve never heard of still contains helpful information, but sometimes not. And yet, we keep looking, because we need to know what is true in order to make good decisions about how to live our lives.
This process of discernment is also vital to our spiritual lives. When we hear from teachers, preachers, bloggers, authors, and even from scripture – we need to take the time to consider the source. Research the credentials, the background, the education and theology of your faith teachers and organizations. When you are reading scripture, look at more than just a single verse at a time. Consider the context of the writing. What is happening in the text or the story around the scripture? Take the time to study scripture, and the world “of” the text. What is happening in that historical moment? Who do scholars believe wrote the text you are studying? What were the pressing issues of their time? How might this message speak to them? Of course, we read the Bible as a living document, so it’s also important to consider how a scripture speaks to us and our time.
For example, this scripture comes when God is speaking through Jeremiah to the community in exile in Babylon. He is preaching an unpopular message, that the people should build houses, grow families, and seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:4-7). He later offers comfort that this exile will come to an end and the people will return (Jeremiah 29:10-17). So this text is a challenge to the people to think critically about prophets preaching false hope, while offering a way forward and a true hope for the future.
One of the ways that I examine scripture and theology is through this verse: Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So when I consider a certain scripture passage, I think, “How is this scripture life-giving?” When I read an author or listen to a preacher or theologian, I wonder, “Does this person speak a life-giving truth?” What are some of the ways you discern truth in your faith life? Are there certain values or beliefs that you use to help you discern truth? (For example: “God is love.” Or “We are saved by grace alone.”) Comment below! Write me an email, message, or note. Give me a call. The practice of discernment is one of skill, art, and Spirit. I’d love to talk to you more about it.