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On Monday, the day I wrote this column, I turned 32. When I graduated from college years ago, the dean of my journalism school gave a speech that I’ve mostly forgotten. But I still remember one statement: “People think they’re paying journalists for their objectivity. That’s not true. They’re paying them for their judgment.”
I thought about that a lot, because it seemed to push against the conventional ideals of journalism. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt it to be true: Our news sources are not truly objective in the sense of being bias-free. You sense a journalist’s judgment in his work not just in the way he covers an issue in a story but in the fact that he covered it at all, and with how many words.
At WORLD, we try to earn our readers’ trust every day by exercising Biblical judgment—or as I prefer to call it, discernment. Personally, I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to practice as a Christian journalist, because it’s not something I can attain easily or instantly or even through mere hard work. Discernment takes time, intentionality, practice, maturity, and insight through the Holy Spirit.
Discernment isn’t just separating right from wrong or true from false, but sifting through the noise of media, culture, and knowledge and picking out the bad from the worse, the better from the good, the best from the better. My name may mean “wisdom,” but as someone with stubborn passions and blunt honesty, practicing wisdom and discernment hasn’t come naturally for me.
I remember calling my father during a long, traffic-choked drive to Tijuana, Mexico, to report on the border crisis. It was early in my reporting on border issues, and I was starving for some clear guidance. I thought maybe my father, the wisest human being I know and a missionary and pastor for almost 30 years, might sprinkle some wisdom my way.
“Abba,” I groaned. “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m hearing conflicting information. I know what the Bible says about treating immigrants. But I don’t know what it says about policymaking and immigration reform and our asylum system in the U.S. How am I supposed to know what God thinks about all these complicated social and political issues?”
My father said something that, at the time, didn’t help me immediately: “Read the Bible. Read it quickly, read it slowly, study it word by word, study it topic by topic, view it from eye level and from a bird’s-eye view. The more you know and meditate and understand the Word of God, the more you’ll come to understand everything you need to know.” And being the pastor he is, he spent the next 30 minutes sermonizing on the vitality of God’s Word.
I groaned louder. That all sounded like a lifelong process, and I wanted wisdom and discernment—now.
Unless it’s something about which Scripture is explicitly clear, such as abortion or sexual immorality, I’ve always struggled to understand God’s heart in particularly complex issues. I know God’s justice doesn’t always align with our modern-day understanding of justice and human rights. So why won’t God just tell me—in a few unambiguous paragraphs—what He thinks about this or that particular issue? Why can’t He just set off warning bells in my head when someone tells me half-truths or misleading facts? Why won’t He fill out my ballot papers for me during tough, agonizing elections, and tell me exactly what to say during a difficult relationship crisis?
Some time ago I spoke with a younger reporter who was bemoaning this very thing. “Maybe God doesn’t just show or tell us what to think or write because that’s not true wisdom or discernment,” I told her. “Maybe He wants us to grow and mature in our faith and trust and knowledge. Maybe He wants us to pursue Him, understand Him, and love Him first, because the greatest wisdom is in Him.”
My own answer surprised me, because that certainly wasn’t how I was feeling. I was frustrated, insecure, and discouraged that I wasn’t as wise as I wanted to be. But I suppose that was one moment when God did give me a piece of wisdom. I was comforted in the reminder that although there’s no shortcut to discernment, God is faithfully walking me through the process.
I remember reading about how Moses would pitch a tent outside the Israelite camp. Each time he entered the tent, God would descend in a pillar of cloud and “speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Oh, how my heart leapt to read that, aching with longing to enjoy the same kind of intimacy and access to God! Oh, the questions I would ask Him, the wisdom I’d love to glean from Him!
Though I don’t have a tent to meet God, Scripture makes clear that God’s Spirit already resides in me, and that He desires to give wisdom generously to whoever asks for it (James 1:5). He desires for me what I desire, and He is moving me deeper toward Him, prompting me to test my heart constantly and to lean on Him in dependency and obedience.
So as I turned a year older and hopefully a teensy bit wiser, I got on my knees and asked for a birthday gift: Oh Lord, “teach me knowledge and good judgment. ... I am your servant; give me discernment” (Psalm 119:66, 125).