Discernment in Difficult Decisions

COVID-19 brought us an incredibly confusing array of opinions, questionable “facts” and dozens of decisions to make. Many good Christians hold very strong ideas about what should be done, what makes sense, and how they will or will not respond, and they can be very different from what others have concluded. How do we sort through all this confusion? In a word … 

What does it mean to have “godly discernment” when so much is at stake and we have so little reliable information to work with?

While the broader topic of discernment might be useful, I would like to propose just three “rules of thumb” that can go a long way toward making decisions that are thoughtful and graceful in the face of uncertainty.

#1 — What decision can I live with, if I am wrong?

I learned this recently from my son who has to make executive decisions every day in a constantly changing business context. Given the uncertainties regarding complex problems (like COVID) it is always possible that I will arrive at mistaken conclusions and make choices I will later regret. That being the case, what choices can I live with if I am wrong? For example, if I am hiking in the mountains and come to a rickety bridge over a deep gorge, what decision will I most regret if I am wrong? Or in the case of COVID, what if I’m overly cautious and it turns out that some of my precautions were unnecessary? Well, I can live with that. On the other hand, if I choose to ignore the problem and end up infecting someone who is compromised and as a result suffers greatly or dies from the disease, can I live with that?

So when faced with multiple choices, it can be very helpful to “try on” each option and ask, “What if I’m wrong with this one?”

#2 — What option today will leave me with the most options tomorrow?

I learned this one several decades ago from a wise company president. When there are multiple actions possible, it can be helpful to ask which ones are irreversible, which ones eliminate future choices (and which choices get eliminated), and finally, which actions will leave the most options on the table for future action. In the case of COVID, this rule of thumb could have some bearing on whether or not to wear a mask, as in … if I don’t wear one and then sneeze in public, I will no longer have the option of putting on the mask before I sneeze; but if I put the mask on now, I will always have the option to remove it later, and in the meantime I won’t sneeze on anyone.

#3 — What if God tells me what to do?

Let us be clear on one thing. Learning how to discern the voice of God at all and separate His voice from the other voices in our head is a lifetime learning curve. Learning to hear Him for direct guidance takes even more practice. Humility is always called for in discernment, as well as the willingness to say we maybe did not hear correctly. We have probably all known someone who married the person “God told them to marry” and it turned out to be a nightmare. So when we think God might be leading us to make highly consequential decisions, we need to be very careful; especially if we have a vested interest in whatever it was we think God said.


We have all had to make a lot of decisions about COVID, and we will probably have to make a lot more in the days ahead. My hope is that we will not rely on our “gut” to tell us what to do, since that is one of the most unreliable sources available to us. Rather, let us endeavour to think about the possible outcomes of each option in front of us and weight them against each other to see what might be most thoughtful toward those around us, even if it means giving up what we might prefer to do.

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