Common sense is defined as having sound judgment in practical matters. Most people would say they have it already. You may wish to check out a prior study called The Eyes Have It, seeing God at work in our world. However, to discover what God thinks about our “common sense,” we need to look to Proverbs. Our Bible tells us that common sense is something to be developed through a combination of wisdom and discretion, by a lifetime of Godly observation:
(Proverbs 3:21)1NIV New International Version Translations – “My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion.”
(Proverbs 8:12-14) – “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior, and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power.”
Wisdom then, is knowing what to do; discretion is knowing when and where to do it. Biblical common sense takes the form of sound, practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge in a manner that is shared by (common to) most people. Common sense is a learned attribute. As we grow in wisdom and discernment, we gain common sense through observing God in the world around us.
When we in our bumbling way
Over eons of time and
After exhausting effort
Stumble over a truth of nature
Wrought from all time,
An infinitesimally small grain of Your truth
In a vast universe of truths,
We nod knowingly,
Connect the dots of DNA and
Pride ourselves for having knowledge.
Understanding escapes us.
“What in the world!” We say.
And, in our limited, blind way do not consider
What not of this world.
To help further with the concept of common sense being a “learned attribute,” we look to a theologian made most famous around the time of our Revolution, Reverend Thomas Reid. Reid studied philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, before serving as Presbyterian pastor at New Machar (1737–1751). He is the author of “An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764),” written during his tenure (1751–1764) at King’s College, in Aberdeen.
The school founded by Thomas Reid held that common sense should not be formed by “philosophy” but by the “perception of things around us.” The most remote conclusions of observations, Reid would state, constitute science. To qualify as science, something, therefore, must be observable and repeatable, two critical tenants of scientific discovery. Reid would establish that science and common sense are closely knit “that we cannot say precisely where the former begins and the latter ends.” Man’s knowledge of nature “can be compared with a tree having its roots, its trunk, and its branches. Perception is the root, common sense the trunk, science the branches.”2https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/scottish-school-common-sense
Reid established that education, therefore, should be comprised of teaching that there is a God. That God placed a conscience (a moral sense) into every individual – (as part of Natural Law). God established “first principles” such as law, government, education, politics, and economics, all to be discovered by “common sense.”
An additional point from Reid was “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them — these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.”3 Cuneo and Woudenberg, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid (2004) p 85.
In other words, there are Natural Laws, created by God, that can be seen. When we ignore them or argue against them, it becomes an example of absurdity.
Observation and Repeatability
With observation and repeatability at the core of common sense, how should we learn to observe reliably? Here are just a few of the many Bible verses on this subject:
(John 7:24) – “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
(1 Corinthians 15:33) – “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
(1 John 4:1) – “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
(Deuteronomy 19:15) – “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
(2 Corinthians 13:1) – “This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Therefore, our Bible tells us that you should expect bias and lies from the world around us, especially from those with a history of bias and untruths. The responsibility of observation, however, falls directly onto our own shoulders. Social Media and search filters, selective editing by the media, outright fraudulent misrepresentation of facts, call for constant vigilance. All matters of observation require multiple sourcing and that does not mean searching the Internet multiple times. Repeatability means that when patterns of repetitive human behavior are known to exist, they are reliable enough to be believable. Our responsibility, however, is to compare them to the calling of our God. There is NO ROOM FOR INCONSISTENCY. We are responsible 100% of the time to discern fact from opinion and there is a lot of ungodly opinions in our world to sort out.
The desire for confirmation of one’s own opinions is the enemy of “common sense.” Many people have become ensnared in trouble and heartache because they rejected a wise path, supported a wrong cause, because they sought conformation of their own bias rather than the Truth. Common sense is often developed by learning from the consequences of poor choices. This is called history! Everyone, every society makes bad decisions at some point. The difference between the wise and the foolish is that wise remember those decisions that were bad and learn from their mistakes. Common sense tells us that God expects us not to repeat mistakes since those are the actions of fools.
(Proverbs 2:1-8) – “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”
Solomon gives us a wonderful example of perfect common sense:
(Ecclesiastes 11:3) – “If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.”
To think otherwise is the absurdity that Reverend Reid so boldly declared. If we try to apply God’s Word without thorough observation and accurate interpretation, we may become something that God never intended us to be. And if we try to proclaim God’s Word without first carefully observing, interpreting, and applying it to our own lives, we may be in danger of proclaiming a distorted gospel and misrepresenting God! False teachers and leaders often walk according to their own lusts, speaking smooth words, flattering people to gain advantage. This is deception because they say nice things about others, professing to care about them, but only seek their own advantage of money and power.
(Jude 16-17) – “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. they said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”
(Matthew 13:16-17) – “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
“Common Sense” should tell each of us to keep calm and live for Christ! We are His witnesses, His observers for this world! The sense of real peace is only possible because Christ has already dealt with the ultimate fear of humankind, death. And that is what Solomon was talking about, “a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.” Death and judgment come to all and to think otherwise is absurd!
- Where in our society do you see the most egregious breaches of common sense?
- Ideas to Explore: Think about our politics and how our economy is handled. Think about how international affairs’ are handled and how we deal with our enemies. Think about our families and whether they have prospered or faltered in your generation. Think about immigration policies and are we treating the people around us in a Godly way?
- Common Sense is a discovery tool. How has it helped you discover God?
- Ideas to Explore: Where in your life and faith walk have you been able to use wisdom and discernment? What would have happened if you listened to the world rather than God?
- Why do you think that we tolerate social media who filters truth and, edits, and misrepresents the truth?
- Ideas to Explore: Do we base our opinions on the entertainment value of media rather than a more lofty and Godly goal? Are we really interested in only having our opinions supported? How accepting are we of always knowing both sides of an issue? Are you of the opinion that it is only the “other side” that is hearing lies?
- Do you know why you like or hate someone?
- Ideas to Explore: How are you influenced by others? Do you always double and triple check your facts before making a decision or forming an opinion? Are your opinions cast in concrete or are you a person open to learning you could be wrong? How do you treat others when you disagree with their opinion?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations
- 3Cuneo and Woudenberg, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid (2004) p 85