Learning to Discern

“Job said, ‘The ear tests the words it hears just as the mouth distinguishes between foods. So let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.'”  —  Job 34:3-4

All of us can instantly taste the difference between sweet and sour. The same goes for salty and unsalted, spicy and bland, frothy and smooth. We certainly know what chicken tastes like, even if snake and other suspect foods are proverbially said to “taste like chicken!”

Who couldn’t recognize a burger with their eyes closed! But just how fine-tuned is your palate? If a gourmet chef were eating a dish prepared by someone else, that chef probably would be able to recognize most of the secret ingredients.

Any cook familiar with spices and flavorings will usually be able to identify tastes the rest of us wouldn’t have a clue about. Most of us just dig in and enjoy the overall result, wholly undiscerning…pretty much like we typically listen.

When it comes to listening, normally we can distinguish between loud and soft, near and distant, human and nonhuman. Most can recognize differences in pitch and tone. Usually we can even distinguish between serious talk and jesting.

Yet how many “listening gourmets” are there? How many of us can discern what we hear as proficiently as what we taste? Even fine listeners may have no discernment whatsoever when it comes to distinguishing between different kinds of talk–say, talk that is truthful and talk that is subtly deceptive…or talk that is logical and talk that never connects the dots.

How many of us, for instance, can recognize when an argument fails to carefully distinguish between Issue A and Issue B? Learning to “taste” words with discretion is a godly art. What’s at stake is the crucial discernment of ideas, teachings, doctrines, and ultimately truth.

Not all words have the same flavor. Some are deliciously right while others are disgustingly wrong. How good are we at listening critically and carefully analyzing what we hear?

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