Supernatural discernment: Knowing what you can’t know.

Yesterday a coworker was trying to explain some scripture to me. It’s an interpretation I was entirely unfamiliar with, so I found it interesting. Had my doubts, but kept an open mind. It sounds a little bit plausible, so I spent some of this morning investigating it. Turns out it’s something the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, and nobody else. So, nah.

But yesterday, while he was still talking to me, before I ever looked it up and knew it was something JWs teach, I had deduced, “Y’know, I think this guy’s Jehovah’s Witness.”

No, the Holy Spirit didn’t supernaturally reveal this to me. I deduced it. From the clues:

  • It’s the Christmas season, and I had heard him mock Christmas a number of times. Admittedly I do this too with the materialism around the holiday, but JWs are particularly notorious for not observing Christmas. Big obvious red flag there.
  • He dismissed any comments I had to make, or any corrections I offered to his proof texts. He was entirely sure he knew what he was talking about. JWs are notorious know-it-alls; their claims of knowing it all is largely what attracts people to them.
  • I’ve studied Christianity all my life and generally know what most Christian branches teach about that particular scripture. (And I know what Mormons teach about it; it’s not substantially different.) I’ve not studied JW teachings, so I suspected that was why this teaching was unfamiliar.
  • We have two big JW churches (ar as they prefer to call ’em, “Kingdom Halls”) in town. They’re predominantly black churches; every JW who’s come to my door has been black; and this coworker is black. Yeah, I admit there’s some racial profiling in this “clue.” Still.

So I had a working hypothesis. But of course I couldn’t prove this hypothesis… till I looked this interpretation up on the internet, and bada-bing: It’s a Jehovah’s Witness view; dude’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Okay. So now I gotta approach him from that angle whenever we talk about Jesus.

Okay. How would supernatural discernment work? Simple: The very minute I met him, before he’d said or done anything, before I had anything I can draw a conclusion from, I’d know he was Jehovah’s Witness. I’d just know.

I’d still have to confirm this belief, ’cause while the Holy Spirit is infallible, I’m surely not. It might be my own gut, not him. But it’s the easiest thing to confirm. “Hey, what church do you go to?” “Well it’s not a church; the church is people, not a building.” Ah, so you are one of those. Good to know.

You see the difference? Natural deduction, the non-supernatural stuff, involves my brain finding clues and drawing a conclusion. Sometimes properly, sometimes improperly, but it takes brainpower. The supernatural stuff does not. It’s revelation: The Holy Spirit had to give it to me. It appeared in my mind as if it’s any other data I drew from it, like how many toes are on my foot, or what color are that passerby’s shoes. It felt like pre-existing knowledge, not something the Holy Spirit told me at that instant.

There’s nothing natural about it.

I’ve written on discernment before. It’s about using your God-given wisdom to figure things out based on available evidence. Detectives are trained to do it, and the reason people love TV detective procedurals is because it’s cool how the detectives and forensic scientists put the clues together, figure out just what the bad guy did, and go get ’em.

If you ever get the chance to watch detectives do it in real life, it’s even more cool: You can see for yourself it’s not just writers being clever. But because Christians too often don’t see discernment practiced in real life, and don’t practice enough of it ourselves, it’s a really easy way for mentalists to wow Christians, and make ’em think basic deductive reasoning is actually a form of prophecy.

And because some people with deductive skills are really good at near-instantly discerning things, sometimes they confuse their natural abilities with the supernatural ability. Doesn’t help that the better we are at something, the more our fellow Christians will insist it’s a divinely inspired talent. “No no; don’t give your brain and your abilities so much credit. God gave that to you. So it is supernatural.” No it’s not. God likewise made my arm, but my being able to lift more than you isn’t because of supernatual empowerment: It’s because I exercise and you don’t.

Here’s the thing about supernatural discernment: Done correctly, there’s no way a person coulda made that deduction naturally. They had no evidence to go from. Bystanders can’t say, “Oh I see how you figured that out,” and point to all the clues that a clever brain might rapidly process into a theory: There are no clues. Yet the person knew it anyway—because God gave them that knowledge. Either at the moment, or some time ago; either way he’s the source of the info. Not human reason.

Yep, it’s a form of prophecy. And because it involves knowledge we can’t have got any other way, many Christians claim this is a “word of knowledge,” which comes from this proof text:

1 Corinthians 12.8 KJV
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

Paul and Sosthenes were writing about supernatural gifts, so the assumption is there’s a supernatural gift of “the word of wisdom,” and a supernatural gift of “the word of knowledge.” But since the apostles didn’t define these gifts, we Christians are guessing what they meant by it. Maybe supernatural discernment is the “word of knowledge.” But maybe it’s the “word of wisdom.” (Although there are those Christians who insist natural discernment is the “word of wisdom”—’cause God empowers us to use deductive reasoning. I seriously doubt it, ’cause it too often feels like way too few Christians practice any sort of deductive reasoning, and I’d rather not believe so many of us resist the Spirit. But who knows?—maybe we do.)

If you want natural discernment, study. Learn to do it properly. But if you want supernatural discernment… ask. It’s a gift. God enables it.