Most of think of discernment from the negative side. We want to discern good from bad so we can avoid the bad. We want to teach our families to avoid the bad as well. And that’s necessary. There is a lot of bad to avoid.
But constantly looking out for the potential bad can warp our thinking. Hannah Anderson says, “Facing so many variables, with good and bad so quickly blurring, most of us find it easier to retreat to safe spaces, cluster in like-minded tribes, and let someone else do our thinking for us” (p. 11). She goes on to share:
For a long time, I didn’t think very clearly at all because my actions and choices were shaped more by the brokenness around me than the reality of God’s goodness and nearness. When faced with a decision, I played defense: What will keep me safe? What are other people expecting me to do? What will happen if I make a mistake?
But in trying to keep myself safe, in obsessing over making the “right” choices, I found myself making a whole lot of wrong ones. Because I lacked a vision for goodness, I also lacked discernment. And without discernment, I had little chance of finding the security and happiness that I wanted—that I think we all want (pp. 11-12).
Hannah suggests a different approach. Why not discern good from bad in order to pursue the good? That’s just what she proposes and demonstrates in All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment.
But what if there were a way to see clearly once again? What if we could see the world as God sees it—in all its brokenness and beauty—and in seeing, be able to do more than endure this life? What if we could flourish in it? I think we can. In fact, I’m convinced of this good news: Despite all the pain, all the sorrow, all the questions, goodness still exists because God still exists. And because He does, He has not left us to sort through the mess alone (p. 11).
God created the world and the people in it and pronounced them good (Genesis 1). But sin marred the world and our hearts (Genesis 3). Yet God has promised to restore goodness some day. And for now, even in spite of a marred visage, we can still trace God’s goodness in what He created. As we believe in and follow Him, “He is busy transforming you, renewing your mind ‘so that you may discern what is [His] good, pleasing, and perfect will'” (Romans 12:2) (pp. 12-13).
Hannah explains what discernment is and isn’t, what hinders “our ability to experience His goodness,” how “simply reacting to established culture is not enough, why naïveté and isolationism can cause us to misstep just as quickly,” how discernment and virtue intertwine, what habits we can employ, and how God walks with us (p. 12).
Then Hannah devotes a chapter apiece to the things Paul told us in Philippians 4:8 to think on: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.”
Hannah weaves each of these truths with observations from everyday life: detective stories, vacations, pearls, art museums, making pies.
I took this book slowly, just reading one chapter a week and letting it sink in. I appreciated so much not only what Hannah said, but how she said it. I marveled at how she wove different elements together in her chapters.
I’ve got dozens of quotes marked, but here are just a few more:
There are no hacks to discernment. No three easy steps to follow, no lists or tricks or tips to ensure that you’ll be able to make good decisions when you need to. In order to make good decisions, you must become a discerning person, a person skilled in wisdom and goodness itself. And to be these kinds of people, we must be humble enough to be willing to learn (p. 27).
What Solomon realizes is that our life on earth, all the things we experience, all the work we do, all the good things we enjoy, aren’t simply a hurdle to the next life. They are designed by God to lead us to the next life. They are designed to lead us to Him. Like the grooves on a record, God’s good gifts are designed to draw us closer and closer to the center, to draw us closer and closer to eternity and Him (p. 53).
At its essence, worldliness is a disposition of the heart—the belief that goodness comes from the immediate satisfaction of temporal desire. But because worldliness is a disposition of the heart, we can’t simply retreat into religious contexts to escape it. We also can’t rely on adopting certain positions or practices to avoid it—especially if we use them to avoid the more difficult task of examining our own heart motives. As long as we’ve picked the “right” education for our children, go to the “right” church, watch the “right” movies, and vote for the “right” candidate, we won’t have to face the deeper truth about how easily our hearts are led astray. We could be consumerist, pragmatic, and completely worldly but never know it because we see our choices as “right” and thus are convinced that we are as well (pp. 53-54).
You develop discernment by becoming a person who knows how, not simply what, to think (p. 57).
In order to become discerning people, we also must separate our need for approval from our decision making. But to do that we’ll need a source of honor that is not dependent on how people perceive us. We’ll need a source of honor that doesn’t rest on presenting just the right look at just the right moment. And we find that honor, not in image crafting, but in the One who first crafted us in His own image (p. 84).
I didn’t realize until I was almost finished with the book that the last chapter contained review points and discussion questions for each chapter. That would have been helpful to know and use.
Hannah hosts a podcast called Persuasion along with Erin Straza.
If you are a member of Audible.com, the audiobook of All That’s Good is currently free with your subscription. They shuffle their free titles around at intervals, so I am not sure how long this one will be free. I did not listen to the audiobook—I can’t listen to books like this and get as much out of them as I can when highlighting and occasionally rereading parts. But I know some of you prefer nonfiction via audio.
But I encourage you to get and partake of this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)