To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
It was a spring day in Kingston, a decade-or-so ago. Snow still melting on the ground, the sun cutting through the cold, and I was going to meet with a friend and Campus Crusade mentor to discuss my current crisis of faith. Crisis should, perhaps be put in quotation marks. it was no such thing. Challenge, perhaps. Evolution, maybe. But these words were new to me when applied to faith.
Meeting in the University Centre, we shared some time together, and then I shared my story. A story of blacks and whites fading to grey. A story in which the absolutes of childhood faith had a few more question marks attached to them. A story in which they worldview I had inherited was collapsing down around me, and in which I no longer knew how to proceed on my own. I was searching, seeking, looking for counsel. At very least, a companion on the journey.
As new as it was for me, it seemed as though faith and doubt existed in equal part.
I don’t remember much of his response, but what I do remember, I remember well. The answer was so simple, he told me. “Andrew, all you need to do is have more faith. Give more of your life over to Jesus, and your doubts will go away.”
More faith. That’s it. That’s all I needed to have. And yet, I was there that morning because I could manufacture no more faith. I wasn’t there because I needed a pep talk. I wasn’t there because I needed one more cleverly constructed answer. I was there because I needed a friend, and because I didn’t know what options (if any) were left to nurture my meagre faith.
It didn’t strike me then, as it does now, how my friend and I had misunderstood the scriptures. It didn’t strike me then, as it does now, how totally enslaved to a modern individualistic worldview such a notion of faith might, in fact, be:
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit.
To one is given wisdom, another knowledge, and another faith. To one this, and another that. Listening to the voice of the Spirit in the text, it becomes clear that all gifts are not given to all people in the same measure. To one this, another that. You might have a large gift of faith, or you might not. But you can’t steal it, force it or manufacture it.
You can’t force the Spirit’s hand. You can’t force her to give up the goods, because faith, like all the spirit’s gifts, is just that. It is a gift. And faith, like each gift of the Spirit is “activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
This is why we need the body. This is why we need the church. Each of us has received a gift. But they are not the same gifts, and they have not been distributed in equal measure. We need each other. And we need each other more than we need to agree. Because God’s Spirit continues to pour out these gifts upon us. But they are no good if received and exercised alone. They are no good without community. Without the body of Christ.
The danger (dare I say, the lie) of the modern church is the claim that the gifts of the Spirit are ours – as if something to possess.
We have been led to expect that all are given some measure of faith. If you’re a good Christian, that measure is great. If you’re not, the measure is little. And if the measure is little, you’d better go get some more!
Knowledge and wisdom, that’s what our pastors and theologians are for. But as for the rest of them, what should we do? Some of us aren’t sure what to do with healing and miracles. Others what to do with the discernment of spirits, tongues, or interpretation. Others yet remain completely unsure what to do with the gift of prophecy.
Why is it that each individual Christian must have great faith? Perhaps more importantly, why won’t the Spirit conform to our wishes?