About 35 years ago I heard a lecture at a Morristown synagogue given by Nobel laureate Ellie Wiesel. He told an ancient tale from the Midrash, which was an interpretation as to why Job had undergone such debilitating suffering. The story presents a scene in which God gathered three men for advice on what God should do about the Jewish people who were enslaved in Egypt. The first said, "let my people go." The second recommended that they remain in slavery. Job was the third man, and he abstained because he had no opinion.
And according to the Midrash, for his abstention and his lack of opinion, Job was punished.
On certain matters abstention is not an option. I have long reflected on Wiesel's story, and I have discerned that Job was probably too distracted, self-absorbed, busy or scared to discern. I have been in that psychic place. Most of us have. And it is not an option to remain there.
Every year the season of Lent begins with the Gospel story of Jesus saying no to the temptations of Satan. But I am convinced that before he said no, Jesus said yes – yes to God, and yes to God's mission. Jesus' yes enabled him to say no. Saying yes requires more discernment and commitment than saying no, or saying nothing at all.
On Saturday, March 24, as of this writing six buses will be filled with people from the Diocese of Newark, Diocese of New Jersey and the New Jersey Synod of the Lutheran Church to go to Washington DC to participate in the "March for our Lives" event organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida murders on Ash Wednesday. Local marches are also being planned. (Find out more.) I am going to D.C. because it is a way for me to say yes to God's mercy and peace, and then to say no to the epidemic of gun violence and the entrenched resistance to gun reform.
Discernment usually leads to an opinion. But that does not end the process. It is tempting to think that once an opinion has been arrived at, the work is done. That short-sighted view of discernment inevitably leads to the polarization where we find ourselves in our culture today. Incomplete discernment can result in the unfortunate, if not dangerous place where a demonstrated no to a particular position often extends to an existential rejection of the person who holds that position. Then we literally have culture war. Discernment is never finished – and requires us to continually ask what God is calling us to do in order to participate in God's mission; and not to insult, reject or shame those who look at the world from a different perspective. We can reject the perspective, but we can't reject the people who hold them.
Discernment is hard work. At times I can see why Job had no opinion to offer to God. It seemed easier, maybe even safer. But it is not an option.