If you've read Parts 1 & 2, I can imagine someone saying:
"Tim, hold on. We don't always have the luxury of taking time to ponder on what is right. I mean, sometimes the gift of discernment is necessary precisely because we DON'T have complete information but we need to make a decision anyway, right then."
"I'm glad you're seeing reason at last," they continue. "Because we need to act upon our impressions before they grow cold and stale; we don't want to give ourselves time to doubt our promptings or to second-guess ourselves. Strike while the iron's hot, buddy. We need to trust in our spiritual manifestations."
"One last thing. What's all this business about 'pure knowledge'? Isn't discernment what we need when we lack knowledge? If we already knew what was right and wrong, we wouldn't need the gift of discernment in the first place. Discernment is what fills-in-the-blanks, allowing us to glimpse into God's mind."
Umm. Like during a séance? But these comments do not address the primary, fundamental issue, which is:
How do we know our impressions are God-given? How do we know we're discerning through the Holy Ghost and not some other spirit?
I would offer this counter-point:
Can Satan give us spiritual promptings? Can the devil appear as an angel of light? Can the devil whisper into our ears using a still, small voice?
"Oh sure, Tim, he can," my imaginary friend says. "But there's a handshake for that!"
Try the Spirits
In 1842 the Times and Seasons published Joseph Smith's Op Ed called "Try the Spirits." In it, Joseph laid out some principles to help us discern whether something is of God.
Joseph said it is easy to "fall into the common error of considering all supernatural manifestations to be of God."
Isn't that what we're worried about? After all, we're so starved for spiritual experiences, we'll bite on just about anything.
"Who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints?"
So we see it was (and still is) a problem for members of the Church. This isn't something that just plagues other sects and denominations.
"One great evil is, that men are ignorant of the nature of spirits; their power, laws, government, intelligence, &c., and imagine that when there is anything like power, revelation, or vision manifested, that it must be of God."
This is why I try to be careful when I say, "God said to me. . . ." Did He? Or did I receive inspiration from another source, like Hiram Page?
"Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age―all have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency, and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery?"
So how did Joseph solve it? How do we tell good spirits from bad ones?
Well, interestingly he took things in a direction I wasn't expecting. The solution lies, simply, in "the priesthood."
Which makes perfect sense, really, when we understand what the priesthood actually is: to possess the knowledge of God. ("In knowledge there is power; God has more power than all other beings, because He has greater knowledge." Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:340.)
In this way the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the keys of the knowledge of God (D&C 84:19). A person who has parted the veil, who has received godly knowledge, can then use that knowledge to discern whether something is of God or not.
Not The Same?
I want to make something clear: the gift of discernment is, for practical purposes, a gift of comparison.
Discernment grows as our experience of and intimacy with God grows, until the perfect day.
When we know God, He becomes the ideal (the model, the exemplar) by which we can spot any inferior and/or counterfeit spirits.
Using the standard of Christ's Spirit, we are able to sense His same Spirit (or its absence) in all things; that is how we measure whether something is good or evil.
But this only works if we actually know God.
In other words, after we've tasted the goodness and grace and love of Jesus (Mormon 1:15), we will be able to detect the presence (or lack thereof) of that Spirit in others, like Moses.
And Moses said to Satan: Where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
I can judge between Him and thee [because] mine own eyes have beheld God . . . I beheld his face.
Depart from me, Satan.
(Moses 1:13, 15, 11)
I think this explains why our spidey-senses are so messed up and why discernment is so sorely lacking in the world ― and, dare I say, in the Church.
The confusion stems from a lack of knowledge. Specifically, a lack of the knowledge of who God is.
The solution, therefore, is to preach the gospel; to teach others how to come unto Christ (for real, not through make-believe or through carnal security).
When they experience God's goodness, thereafter they will be able to discern the truth by holding all things to His light.
"I can discern between different types of ramen because I have eaten them all, in various prefectures, while living in Japan," he said. "The moral of the story is that a [person who hasn't experienced the real thing hasn't] got a clue what good ramen is."
Like me, for example, who has only eaten ramen from the shelf at Walmart: dehydrated noodles that come with a flavor packet.
If I went to Japan, I would have no idea how to judge the quality of real ramen. And another problem: even if I wanted to experience all the ramen there is, I don't have time to sample every single ramen known to man.
But let's say I take a trip with David who has had time to get to know the ramen-scene better than anyone? He introduces me to the best ramen restaurant and, being a connoisseur, can affirm, "Tim, this is the best ramen there is."
Thereafter I will compare all ramen to that one, because I trust him and His knowledge of ramen. And this is how Christ saves us: He knows the best ramen restaurants and takes us there; He educates our taste buds (our desires).
This explains the mysterious saying from Isaiah:
By his [Christ's] knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.
This is why we DON'T have to experience everything ourselves, so don't worry ― we merely need to experience everything with Christ.
Now, back home in Utah, I'll go to lunch with Bob and we'll eat ramen together. Bob lauds it as the best ramen ever. Really? In Salt Lake City?
Having been exposed to something greater and better in Japan, I'll know Bob is wrong, but I won't fault him for it. After all, Bob is just speaking from his own (limited) experience.
(Compared to Christ, consider how limited all of our experiences are.)
I'll go to Church and listen to people preach from the pulpit. They'll teach what what they have experienced. And here's a secret: all those who have experienced God can tell when someone else has, too.
What is "Good" Ramen?
Now the main point:
How do we tell if the ramen is "good"? Isn't that subjective?
I think the doctrinal key we should understand is:
Remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.
You see, Satan gives gifts, too. He makes all kinds of ramen. He's quite generous. The devil will bestow riches and praise and eloquence and all kinds of perks upon his children. They feast upon his noodles as if they were flaxen cords.
So don't assume just because someone has a gift it comes from God. Only those things that come by the gift and power of Christ can be considered "good."
On the other hand, gifts that come from a source other than God will ultimately condemn us, though we will have joy in them for a season.
But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire . . . for their works do follow them.
(3 Nephi 27:11-12)
When the end comes, we will discover that the ungodly gifts we have taken so much pride in, and believed they were of God when in fact they were not, will consume us; having taken strength through them, they become a "worm that dieth not, and a fire that is not quenched" (Mark 9:48).
So the name-of-the-game is to know whether we are operating within the auspices of God's gifts, or another's.
That's why we're here! To discern between the things of God and the natural man. To understand what is actually "good."
The challenge is that our churches are telling us things are "good" when they are not; getting us to do things as if we were doing them in God's power and Spirit, when in fact we're lifting dumbbells with the arm of flesh. Our muscles (and bank accounts) are growing through steroids, not the Spirit of God.
And at the last day, our biceps shall burst and deflate like a balloon.
None Doeth "Good"?
Moroni tells us that "none doeth good." Wait. What? That's not possible. There are tons of good causes, and good works, and good people in the world. Right?
There shall be none that doeth good among you [say it ain't so! He's not talking about us, is he?] no not one [what about President Nelson?].
Or if there be one among you that doeth good, [*major sigh of relief*] he shall work by
(1) the power and (2) gifts of God.
In case that was confusing, let me put it this way:
A thing is only "good" if it abides in the Spirit (power) of God, done through His gifts.