Think about this statement: “We do not know what He is doing.” Is that true or false? Consider this, the more we seek, the more we find (Mt. 7:7), and the more we come to know Him. That quoted statement, then, is false! How often, though, can you say that you know what Jesus is doing in your life? Can you say it with confidence, or only to pass by the topic? It is so easy to say, “I do not know what Jesus is doing in my life.” It is also tempting to finish that sentence with, “so he has no value or importance in my life.” That is the sin of presumption, and the issue we will be addressing today. It is the “first kind of presumption” as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2092.
What is presumption? The definitions I found included phrases like “belief with reasonable evidence,” and “a basis or reason for believing.” In this article I do not mean sound presumption, I mean unreasonable and baseless presumption. I mean presuming something serious with little and weak evidence. It may help to contrast presumption with something good: discernment. Presumption is opposed to discernment. Presumption, in contrast to discernment, does not need effort of the intellect or the will. Presumption promotes sloth and stubbornness of will. Presumption tempts the person to invest their hope in him or herself, and not in God.
Consider now the statement we are using to describe presumption: “I do not know what Jesus is doing in my life; so he has no value or importance to me.” The person who makes this statement (who is too often myself) is retreating from the opportunity to think for himself and engage this problem in the conversation of prayer. It is easier to presume that God does not care for me, rather than to ask Him myself… and patiently await His answer. Presumption is the response of fear. Though not immediately, it burdens the person with an unnecessary sense of despair. This sense of despair is in direct opposition to what St. John exhorts us with:
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this love is brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so we are in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. 1 Jn. 4:16-21.
The entirety of chapter four is beautiful, but I want to emphasize certain phrases in that passage with italics and bolded text. The Christian life does not invest itself in despair. The Christian person cannot presume. Both of these responses, which are (not exclusively) rooted in fear deny a primary truth about the reality we live in: God is loving. In fact, the “stuff” that God is “made of” is Love Itself. What does that even mean for us?
Catch yourself. At this point, it is easy to presume the conclusion and the point of that paragraph. At this point, it is easy to gloss over and presume we know the message and intent of the article.
Having read that bible passage, it is appropriate to ask: what role does discernment play? We read that (1) love is brought to perfection, (2) perfect love drives out fear, and (3) we have come to know and believe that God loves us. Notice that these three points have movement. St. John shows that in the first two points, love moves or moves to something. In the third point, the person is moved to God.
Discernment, within this context, is a positive movement toward something or someone good (hint: Mt. 19:17). Discernment contrasts presumption because presumption moves toward an incomplete and unhealthy thought. That thought distracts us more and more as time passes. Discernment, however, helps us sift through and understand what we are going through and experiencing. Discernment helps us respond in love and not fear. Discernment tempers and prunes our temptation to presume and despair.
Is there a practical example of this contrast? For myself, it is friendship. I may presume someone is angry or upset with me and respond to them in an awkward or reserved manner. If instead I decide to ask about their life, that seeking, that attempt to discern, has the potential to lead to a very good and Christ-centered conversation in which we are both edified and built up.
What happens when you discern or pray about something? You encounter the Living God! What happens when you encounter the Living God? Well, that one is for you to answer to yourself. The fruits of contrition, joy, and peace can help test the encounter.
“I do not know what Jesus is doing in my life; so he is of no value or importance to me.” The first part may be true. The second part deserves to be crushed! Discernment is the healthy, holy, and right way to respond to confusion and ambiguity. Reject fear, let Love deliver you from fear. Do not receive despair from presumption. Receive clarity and peace from discernment. Seek and you will find!