Raise your hand if you can get behind a cause called "Discernment Is Not for the Faint of Heart."
For honorary president, I recommend Tamar.
Tamar was a woman who showed up early in the Bible. She married Judah's son. He died. She then married Judah's other son. He died. Judah promised she could marry his third son. But he lied.
And Tamar decided, "I'm not taking this any more."
Tamar was a widowed woman circa 2000 BC. That made her fish chum on the food chain of that culture. But that didn't excuse Judah, who knew as much as there was to know about God at the time. He was supposed to be one of the good guys. Tamar discerned that she was not being treated right, and that gave her strength to do something about it.
Buckle up because it was not pretty.
Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, and father-in-law Judah hired her for her services, not knowing it was Tamar because she hid her face.
Months after this incident (don't let me lose you here), Judah was told that his daughter-in-law was pregnant as a result of behaving like a prostitute and, appalled, he commanded that she be burned to death. BUT THEN Tamar pulled out a seal and staff that Judah had left with his "prostitute" that fateful night and ta-da, caught ya, buddy!
Guess what Judah said to all that? (Drum roll, please...)
"She is more righteous than I am," said Judah. (Genesis 38:26). She's in the right here. And back when I had the chance, I should have kept my word to her.
Um, say wha?
The Judah before this incident was a relatively self-absorbed man. He had a conscience but not strong character. The Judah after this incident was a man who selflessly defended people unable to defend themselves (Genesis 44:18–34).
Tamar's behavior may look cuckoo, but it was a first crack that began changing Judah from jerk status to…not so much. And that is a lot to accomplish when you have no power over anything at all–except your own mind and its discernment of truth.
A tip we can take from Tamar? Some propaganda might not be telling the truth. Even if it shows up in a should-be-trustworthy package otherwise known as Father Abraham's great grandson Judah.
The apostle Paul understood this. "Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn't God, for he is the one who called you to freedom." (Galatians 5:7–8)
Nobody's saying Tamar's behavior should be held up as a model for how to handle tough times. But Tamar's selling-her-body-on-the-roadside business does show us that real life is rough. And God honored her faith and her determination to do what she could.
Which means discernment might take more nerve than we thought.
Mark Twain made this point in his fictional depiction of Huck Finn and a runaway slave named Jim. While Huck and Jim headed for the northern states, Jim began talking about what he would do once he was free. His first plan of action? Buy his wife.
Buy his wife what?
No. Buy his wife. From her owner. Then he planned to scrimp and save to buy his children.
As the reader, we ache for the injustice that had indefensibly broken Jim's family and crushed Jim's dignity. However, Huck felt something else rising inside him as Jim spoke.
He actually felt that he should not help a slave.
He felt rotten and wrong for undermining the system of slavery.
And he did not like hearing someone like Jim break out of his stereotypical role and speak so...freely.
"Just see what a difference it made in (Jim) the minute he judged he was about free..." thought Huck distastefully. Huck made plans to turn Jim in.
Some long, honored traditions are not grounded in truth. But the long and honored parts of them make it very, very hard to discern our way out of their persuasiveness. Even for Huck, who hated being "sivilized" and considered himself free from honoring such traditions–cultural, religious, or otherwise.
Rejecting false truths should be a habit we start tackling at a young age, but I can see why we do not jam our VBS schedules with literary fillers like Huck or even Bible stories like Tamar. Her story is rough, for sure, and it forces us to discern a certain "s" word in a rather raw manner.
You know. Strength.
For some reason, strength is a tricky word. When Jim began speaking with strength and confidence about his plans for his own freedom, Huck said, "I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him."
Why did Jim's strength weaken Huck's discernment? Where was Huck's discernment?
Our earthly way of clinging to traditions, even bad ones, began to undermine Huck. However, when the time came, Huck did not give in to the deceptive propaganda of the day. Lucky for Jim.
Neither does God. Lucky for us.
For example, we can look at Jesus' lineage outlined in the book of Matthew. At a time in history and in a culture where women were not named in family trees, the Author of the Bible went another way. The list started out traditionally, then four dads in, God mentioned a mom: Tamar.
The poet Arsène Houssaye once said, "Tell me whom you love and I'll tell you who you are."
The God of this Bible loved Tamar.
He positioned Tamar's story to highlight her as an action-oriented, noteworthy person. Even though her behavior was graphic, God gave Tamar her place and her page. That should give us a clearer, more practical vision of who this God is.
My trouble with discerning God starts with a phrase that goes something like this: I DON'T KNOW HOW. I look at Tamar's example and still struggle with how to specifically stand firm in my own walk of faith. But Tamar does not stand alone.
We have each other.
Something happens when we see others connecting to God and doing what he says do. They "...affirm that God is true" (John 3:33).
We are in this thing together. When any one of us stands firm in what we get from God, that firmness helps all of us discern the same in our own lives. It does not look like politics. Or trends. Or religion. It looks like Tamar. It looks like God's church.
Here's to our real-life schooling on "Discernment for Dummies." I'll sign up.
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has managed marketing and media relations needs for various clients such as Microsoft, Wells Fargo and UPS.