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Can You Trust Your Gut?
What if we could grow as Christians and churches in our ability to discern good from evil? Much of the confusion today regarding what constitutes harm—whether physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, racial, etc.—results, at least in part, from impoverished intuition. Rather than rely on this or that textbook definition, we need physical/spiritual maturity so we can more accurately perceive and discern good from evil.
Intuition is one of the most important tools in my counselor toolbox, and I have been wondering what the Bible says about intuition and the role it plays in our discipleship to Jesus. Based on Hebrews 5:14 I believe intuition is essential, and that it can become more trustworthy and accurate through practice.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ( ESV)
The ESV translation “powers of discernment” is just one word in Greek from which we get our English word aesthetics. Other translations render it as “senses” (KJV, NASB) and “perceptions” (NET).
“Senses” is a bodily metaphor, pointing to a similarity between physical and spiritual perception. Just like I can look out my window and perceive that the sky is blue, intuitively and without analytical thought, discerning the difference between good and evil is an intuitive ability of perception. It is a gut sense, a felt conviction that is simply true, whether or not one can put it into words.
Furthermore, this bodily metaphor of aesthetics is couched within a larger context of a physical metaphor about food and human development. If we take our biblical anthropology seriously and understand humans as embodied souls and ensouled bodies, this spiritual aesthetic sense has a physical aspect. How do we practice but with both body and soul? Likewise, how do we distinguish good from evil but with both body and soul?
It should be no surprise, then, that we have gut reactions to moral issues. We don’t need a systematic biblical/theological rationale against racism, abortion, or sexual abuse; we just know them to be wrong by the sick feeling rising in our gut. However, the ability to “distinguish between good from evil” in specific instances and situations can be more murky. Because intuition is not exempt from the noetic effects of sin, both personal sin and being sinned against, we need practice and training.
The Greek word for “trained” is gymnazō, from which we get gym, gymnastics, etc. We will not be trained if we dematerialize that image in gnostic fashion and make this a “spiritual” effort, which often just means mental exercise. The way to maturity in developing intuition is not merely more head knowledge. That can actually be an impediment. Rather, the process of growth for our intuitive selves requires embodied practice: becoming more attuned to the wisdom of the body and exercising that wisdom in our daily lives. Perhaps then we really could trust our gut.
Quote from Dallas Willard
When we speak of spiritual formation we are speaking of the formation of the human spirit. And the spirit is the will or the heart and by extension, the character. And that, in practice, lives mainly in our bodies. The one reason why the idea of spiritual transformation through being merely preached at and taught doesn’t work is because it does not involve the body in the process of transformation. One of the ironies of spiritual formation is that every “spiritual” discipline is a bodily behavior. We have to involve the body in spiritual formation because that’s where we live and what we live from.
The Human Body and Spiritual Growth, by Dallas Willard.
Spiritual Formation: What it is, and How it is Done, by Dallas Willard.
Maybe one way to become more attuned to our embodied intuition is to give greater attention to the physical experience in spiritual disciplines. Fasting is the most obvious example, but also with silence, solitude, fellowship, worship, prayer, service, study. Next time you engage in those ask yourself, what physical sensations are you noticing? How specific can you be in your observations?
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