I was first introduced to the concept of mushroom hunting when I lived in southern Illinois. One of my lab mates was shocked to learn that I had never hunted deer, and even more shocked that I have never been hunting at all. The conversation went something like this:
“You’ve never been hunting?” She asked.
“Not even squirrel?”
“Not even mushrooms?”
“Mushrooms? Ha ha!”
I soon learned that this strange ritual of “hunting mushrooms” was in fact not a joke like I first assumed, but something that scores of people actually did. With a vengeance. And it was not localized to the little communities in southern Illinois. Apparently it’s a much larger phenomenon that just hadn’t quite made it to my native New Englandyet. There I grew up learning not to eat mushrooms from the woods because they are poisonous. At least according to mom. And really, who can argue with mom?
I am proud to say I have now experienced a genuine mushroom hunt, under the tutorial of a friend who is in fact a mushroom hunting champion with the photos to prove it. I knew I was in good hands, but the possibility of consuming poisonous mushrooms was more than I could handle. I badgered her with so many “poisonous mushroom” questions she finally resorted to a series of “poisonous mushroom – non-poisonous mushroom” pictorial comparisons. Some were obvious (flaming red mushroom = not a morel). Others, however, were more subtle. There’s the “true morel” which you can eat, and the “false morel” which can eat you. It’s like a game of truth or dare gone bad.
The whole experience left me thinking about another kind of dilemma. Less to do with morels and more to do with, well, morals. In the early history of Israel, Moses laid out a similar pictorial comparison: See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey (Deuteronomy 11: 26-28).
Pretty straight forward. But like fine nuances between true and false morels, some morals are not so easy to differentiate. The Bible warns us to watch out for false prophets and false teachings. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (Matthew 7:15). Kind of like a false morel that looks at first glance to be edible, but upon closer inspection turns out to be poisonous.
So how do we discern what is really God’s command and what is not? A good place to start is with the commands found in the Bible, for the word of the Lord is right and true (Psalm 33:4). The Bible also tells us do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you (Deuteronomy 4:2). How does your moral dilemma stack up against the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and Jesus’ summation of them (Matthew 22:36-40)?
The apostle John gives us another litmus test to recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God (1 John 4:2-3).
And then there’s what I call the “Morel Test,” which states: If this thing you’re thinking about doing were a mushroom, would you eat it?
You see, despite all the pictorial comparisons and discussions and discernment, in the end I didn’t eat the mushrooms I found. I just wasn’t absolutely, positively, 110% certain that they were true morels. And if you have to deliberate that much whether something is true or false, whether something is right or wrong, whether something is morally acceptable or not, the answer is pretty clear: Don’t eat it. Leave it in that gray and shady spot and walk away.
So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9).