Discernment by Flipping a Coin

601173964_4b2a7b4b21_zReading: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26

I was struck a few weeks ago by a reading from the Acts of the Apostles on the Feast of St Matthias. Matthias was the one chosen to replace Judas Iscariot among the twelve apostles. The Eleven had gathered with about 120 others and Peter, being the leader, spoke to everyone about how Judas, who had ministered with them, was no longer numbered among them. The Psalms, Peter said, guided him to initiate the search for his replacement. He said:

Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.

Matthias was one of two “finalists”, Barsabbas being the second. To decide between them they cast lots. I couldn’t believe this! They basically flipped a coin which decided that Matthias was the one who would take Judas’ empty seat. I couldn’t believe that for something so important to their ministry they would leave it to random chance. Could you imagine if they picked a pope that way?

The more I thought about it, I realised that the group that was assembled likely discussed and discerned well before deciding on Matthias and Barsabbas. In fact, they prayed before casting lots:

You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.

The group had two solid choices, two goods from which to choose. Now they simply needed to choose one, so they left it up to chance, trusting that God would work good through whomever was chosen. The method the apostles went through is very Ignatian. When making a decision, Ignatian spirituality tells us that we should only be deciding between two goodsDiscernment should never be about deciding between good and evil. I wouldn’t want to employ Ignatian discernment if I’m unsure whether I should steal or not because in that case the answer is clear: don’t steal. Ignatian discernment should always be between two good choices.

When I was discerning to leave the Jesuits I was trying to decide between the vocation of religious life and the vocation of lay and married life. Both choices before me were good and I knew that whichever I decided, God would be delighted. And, like Peter and the gang, at some point, after a thorough discernment, you just have to make a decision. And for them all things were equal, so they flipped a coin. I certainly felt more drawn to the vocation or marriage so it wasn’t a coin flip for me, however it did take courage to make a firm decision and trust God with the rest.

This is the key. Whether you end up flipping a coin or going with your gut, getting there ought to be intentional and prayerful discernment between two goods. If all things are equal and you must decide, then flip a coin. God takes care of the rest.

Discerning a big decision? Or a small one? Visit the Discernment Resources page for guidance.

Listen to an audio version of this post…

Music by Kevin MacLeod

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