You may have heard these before: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. These are the spiritual gifts (or at least the ones listed in 1 Corinthians).
Add exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy (again), service, and teaching (from Romans); apostleship, evangelism, the pastorate, prophecy (yes, again), and teaching (from Ephesians); and the sometimes uncomfortable gifts some scholars include like celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missions, and poverty.
Healing sounds great. Martyrdom, not so much. Nevertheless, they are all gifts from God.
Yet, I want to offer the modest proposal of a subcategory of spiritual gifts. I want to add the spiritual gift of suspicion. Hear me out.
I served as board chair of a fairly important not-for-profit agency in St. Louis in the early 1990’s. I started as a volunteer. The Executive Director drafted me to represent said volunteers on the Board. By attrition, over the next three years, I landed in the hot seat, overseeing the hiring of a new Executive Director when my friend resigned.
A bright shiny penny named Michael applied for the job. He had graduated with a Master of Social Work from Washington University nearby. His letters of recommendation glowed. He was charming and quick witted, and we hired him.
Almost immediately, there were problems. His work was inconsistent at best and negligent at worst. He left tasks incomplete. Grants were lost. Then, we started hearing the rumors. Maybe he wasn’t who we thought he was. We became suspicious.
The place to start, I thought, would be verifying his academic credentials. Back in those dark ages, it was as easy as a phone call. I dialed the number for Washington University’s registrar. I gave my name and title, Michael’s full name, and asked for confirmation of degree completion a few years earlier. The woman kept me on the line as she pulled up his record, chatting amiably about the previous night’s Cardinals’ loss. Then she went silent.
“I’ve never had this happen before,” she all but whispered. “No, he did not graduate from our program.”
I ended the call, put my head between my knees to keep from fainting, and began the rather delicate process of firing him quietly. To this day–almost thirty years and three states later–I’ve kept the file box full of notes, in case the lawsuit, criminal investigation, or industrious reporter somehow catches up with me. It’s probably safe to send the whole box to the shredder, but I hesitate. Yes, I’d learned to be suspicious.
Suspicion is just another word of skepticism, after all. It’s a slightly romantic way of describing mistrust. It’s an Alfred Hitchcock version of doubt. In the mad world of human sin and short-sightedness, it’s a world-weary brand of the Spirit’s gift of discernment.
So, the Book of Hebrew describes the spiritually immature need to be taught by the spiritually mature “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12).
This New Testament word ‘diakrino’ is variously translated as discern, discriminate, or judge, and it carries even a connotation of hesitation within one’s self, as when someone is of two minds or possessing of a true and false self. Good and evil aren’t only out there in the world. They’re inside of us too.
We get a sense of such folks, the ones who don’t seem to be showing us their whole selves or the whole truth. We’re right to be suspicious.
A sheriff friend of mine used to warn me to trust my gut. “If you think something’s suspicious,” he’d say, “you’re probably right.” I remember him explaining that I might be wrong, but I’d rather be wrong and say something than right and do nothing. On the one hand, it will cost me an apology. On the other hand, it could cost me my life.
Was he being a bit dramatic? Of course. He was, after all, a law enforcement officer. He’d seen far more of the hard side of humanity than anyone really ought to have to seen. The spiritual gift of suspicion served him well.
Sitting outside on a lovely spring afternoon to compose this column, I have no need for this gift, but someday I will. Someone will lie. Another will be other than how they present themselves. Half-truths will be told. Until we see Christ again, we live in a fallen world deserving of our suspicion.
Still, there is hope, because, above all our fallenness and sin stands the living Christ, who can and always will be trustworthy. We don’t need to discern or judge Jesus. No academic credential checks required.
I wonder sometimes what happened to Michael. I google his name now and then, but nothing has come up. I suspect he’s changed his name, concocted another resume, and duped others. Or maybe Jesus caught up to him in his lies and led him to Truth. I can only hope.