Umm. Talk about snap-judgments! Remember how the Lord doesn't judge based on the "outward appearance?" Well, for us, that's impossible. Our brain is assessing everything around us all the time, drawing conclusions and making judgments, without conscious thought.
Now, what does this have to do with the gift of discernment?
Quite a lot. But not in the way we might think.
Divination is NOT Discernment
If I interviewed random members of the Church on the street (like Jay Leno used to do on the Tonight Show), asking them, "What is the gift of discernment?", and took their off-the-cuff answers, I would expect the most common response would be something like this:
"Discernment is a special feeling I get from the Holy Ghost about something or someone, whether good or bad."
Good heavens! No wonder discernment is as rare as hen's teeth, when we equate it with a "spiritual intuition" or some kind of gut feeling we get from the Spirit about someone or something.
Do we see how easy we're making it for those devils to trick us? For them to play (and prey) upon our emotions? To fool us by using our biases against us?
The Lord warned us not to be duped, He did. How often do we cleave to our prejudices and call them inspiration? How often do we reach for some sort of spiritual justification with which to gratify our pride and cover our sins?
There are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.
And also Satan hath sought to deceive you.
Let me shout it from the rooftops in an effort to expose the adversary's clever tactic, to wit:
The best way to neutralize God's gifts is not to deny them outright, but to co-opt them, getting members of the Church to believe they have God's gifts, and that they are using them ― when in fact we are relying upon our own wisdom and our own strength.
In other words, the devil's great coup is (and has always been) to transform the Church of God into a great and spacious building, all the while making us believe we're building sanctuaries of faith, when in reality we are worshipping at shrines built from our own pride.
So it is with discernment. The devil knows there is no better deception than to get us to use the arm of flesh as if it were God's own.
The Church's definition of the gift of discernment is found in the Guide to Scriptures: "To understand or know something through the power of the Spirit."
Ooookay. How do we know we know it by "the power of the Spirit" and not some other way? This is kind of important, because the Church tells us we can "perceive the true character of people" using this "gift."
You see, the common understanding we have of "the gift of discernment" ― once we unpeel the layers around it ― more closely resembles the art of divination.
Is divination good or bad?
What is divination?
Divination has always been a problem for the House of Israel.
Look closely at these words from Ezekiel, who warns us against following the wrong spirit, and ask yourself how it relates to discernment:
Thus saith the Lord God; Woe unto [those] that follow their own spirit . . . .
They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The Lord saith: and the Lord hath NOT sent them.
(Ezekiel 13:3, 6)
The way we take the name of the Lord in vain is to credit Him for thoughts, ideas, or words that He did not speak.
How ironic it is, the way we use our feelings like a divining rod, following our own emotions that may have as easily been influenced by "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato" as much they were the Holy Ghost.
Rather than relying upon the will-o-the-wisp of our emotions to guide us ― since feelings ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean, often bringing to the shore all kinds of seaweed and junk, such as the broken shells of past trauma or internalized shame that we project upon the present ― perhaps there's a better way.
Joseph Smith said (and if he didn't, I still believe the sentiment):
"A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, you may feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas." (TPJS, 151.)
"Objection, Your Honor!"
"But Tim!" someone objects. "Didn't God give us intuition and instinct and feelings to help us make decisions?"
God created us with hormones and brain chemicals that are part of a biological landscape designed to be part of our mortal test. Emotions are an integral part of our eternal existence. It is remarkable that even God experiences emotion, whose bowels are moved with compassion (D&C 121:3); and who weeps for joy (3 Nephi 17:21). Emotions produce a physiological effect even in resurrected beings.
But the point I want to make is the Spirit is not physical. It speaks spirit-to-spirit.
I think this is a good place to apply Joseph's oft-quoted statement. As you read it, see how it relates to discernment, and if it fits into our "feelings."
The things of God are of deep import; and
can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must
(6)stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and
(7)search into and
(8) contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity.
(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 3:295–96)
Sure, sure. And yet, we think having a negative experience or reaction to something or someone is God giving us discernment?