Okay, I know the title's a bit dorky but I couldn't help it. A series on discernment has materialized on this blog and now I have something to write that I really believe is from God. Of course, use your discernment as you read, but as I prepared to write it I got the funny feeling that God was saying, "Hey Matt, open your eyes, you've had it wrong." So here goes:
When is "discernment" really just cynicism? When is "discernment" just bowing down to the lies of enlightenment, materialistic thought? When does "discernment" get in the way of the supernatural and the unexpected? Can what we might think of as "discernment" really be a lie from Satan that keeps us away from God's blessing? I think it can. I think fear of the new and the miraculous and a cynical state of mind, unwilling to accept amazing and unexpected blessings from God, is often labeled as a discerning mind. I am guilty of all of these things. Lord help me to repent.
In "The Last Battle," the final book in his "The Chronicles of Narnia," C.S. Lewis includes a peculiar story of a group of Dwarfs who have come into Heaven from Narnia. They enter through a stable door. Chapter thirteen of The Last Battle begins with King Tirian, Peter, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, Eustace, and Lord Digory and Lady Polly beginning to explore the paradise that is Heaven. Tirian and Eustace, like the dwarfs, entered Heaven through the stable door from Narnia. The Pevensies, Digory and Polly were all killed in a train accident on earth and are now in Heaven. Heaven is described by Lewis, thus: "They stood on grass, the deep blue sky was overhead, and the air which blew gently on their faces was that of a day in early summer. Not far away from them rose a grove of trees, thickly leaved, but under every leaf there peeped out gold or faint yellow or purple or glowing red of fruits such as no one has seen in our world. . . Everyone raised up his hand to pick the fruit he best liked the look of, and then everyone paused for a second. This fruit was so beautiful that each felt 'It can't be meant for me . . . surely we're not allowed to pluck it.' 'It's all right,' said Peter. 'I know what we're all thinking. But I'm sure, quite sure, we needn't. I've a feeling we've got to the country where everything is allowed.' 'Here goes then!' said Eustace. And they all began to eat. What was the fruit like? Unfortunately no one can describe it. All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you've ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour."
Lewis' description here is somewhat reminiscent of his description in "The Great Divorce," with the fruit in Heaven being more real than any fruit on earth.
But the Dwarfs also entered Heaven through the stable door. Lucy leads the group to the Dwarfs and this is what they see: "They weren't strolling about or enjoying themselves . . . nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn't see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.
'Look out!' said one of them in a surly voice. 'Mind where you're going. Don't walk into our faces!'
'All right!' said Eustace indignantly. 'We're not blind. We've got eyes in our heads.'
'They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,' said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
'In where?' asked Edmund.
'Why you bone head, in here of course,' said Diggle. 'In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.'
'Are you blind?' said Tirian.
'Ain't we all blind in the dark!' said Diggle.
'But it isn't dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,' said Lucy. 'Can't you see? Look up! Look around! Can't you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can't you see me?'
'How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain't there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?'
'But I can see you,' said Lucy. 'I'll prove I can see you. You've got a pipe in your mouth.'
'Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that,' said Diggle.
'Oh the poor things! This is dreadful,' said Lucy. Then she had an idea. She stooped and picked some wild violets. 'Listen, Dwarf,' she said. 'Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right: can you smell that?' She leaned across and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle's ugly nose. But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.
'None of that!' he shouted. 'How dare you! What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in my face? There was a thistle in it too.'
So the Dwarfs, who in reality are in Heaven, have so deluded themselves and are so cynical that they can't see the blue sky, the grass, the trees or even the light of heaven. They also have their rationalizations ready. When Lucy tries to prove to them that they are in the light by telling Diggle that he's smoking a pipe he just explains it away by saying that she could smell the tobacco. Because of the Dwarfs' unbelief, they can't see Heaven even though they are in it.
For you poor souls unfamiliar with Narnia, Aslan is a Great Lion and the character who represents Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Soon after the events described above, Aslan comes along. Here's the scene: ". . . but as he spoke the earth trembled. The sweet air grew suddenly sweeter. A brightness flashed behind them. All turned. Tirian turned last because he was afraid. There stood his heart's desire, huge and real, the golden Lion, Aslan himself, and already the others were kneeling in a circle round his forepaws and burying their hands and faces in his mane as he stooped his great head to touch them with his tongue. Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion's feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, 'Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour.'"
Isn't that a beautiful picture of intimacy with God?
Lucy asks Aslan to help the Dwarfs. Aslan answers, "I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do."
"He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, 'Hear that? That's the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don't take any notice. They won't take us in again!'
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn't much use. They began eating and drinking eagerly enough, but it was clear that they couldn't taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he'd found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said 'Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey's been at! Never thought we'd come to this.' . . . 'Well at any rate there's no Humbug here. We haven't let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.'
'You see,' said Aslan. 'They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.'"
Does it not break your heart? It didn't break my heart before but it does now for some reason. I think it's because I'm beginning to think most Christians, including myself, are like those Dwarfs. We're so cunning and so afraid of being 'taken in.' And why do we feel this way? Because of pride and fear. We don't want to look foolish. It seems foolish to believe that people get drunk in the Spirit and see angels and visit heaven. It seems foolish that God would cause something to materialize in thin air and fall on the worshippers at a church in California. But, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." Are we not, "Fools for Christ?" But, "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom." If we say we believe the Bible and in the Bible people saw and conversed with angels, became like dead men in God's presence, received revelations and were caught up to the third heaven then why do we doubt now? Why do I doubt now? Lord, free me from my unbelief! When we trust people we risk being hurt. We risk believing lies. We risk admiring a fake. But does that mean that we should not trust? That we should not believe? That is the choice many of us make. But what are we missing? What feasts that God is laying before us do we see as 'stable litter?' What new wine do we see as trough-water? And what is the feast? What is the wine? The Psalmist says, "You are my portion, O Lord." Jesus said, "For my Flesh is real food and my Blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him." God is our portion.
Jesus said to Thomas, to Thomas who wouldn't believe the words of his own brothers and sisters that his Lord had been raised. He said to Thomas who had heard Jesus' own words predicting his resurrection, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." It all seemed too good to be true to Thomas. He knew that those other disciples wanted so badly for the resurrection to be true - maybe they had just imagined something and convinced one another of its truth. Thomas knew that people don't normally rise from the dead. But he also knew his Lord. He also knew the words of his Lord. He had been in close company with the other disciples for years. Yet he didn't trust any of that. It was too good to be true. He wasn't going to be 'taken in.' Thankfully Thomas' case wasn't as bad as the Dwarfs in the story. He did believe after he saw and touched his Lord and there proclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"
Let us not be so cunning in our "discernment" that we choose it over belief.