There is an obsession in our culture with diagnosis, especially self-diagnosis. Seriously. Think about all the ads you’ve seen for various medications: the frumpy-to-frolicking ads for anti-depressants, the hip but overstated ads for ADHD, or ads like this one for erectile dysfunction that are just plain… uncomfortable. (Side note: the “Own Your ADHD” Project’s website has a six-question quiz you can take to determine whether you should pursue professional help for ADHD. I scored a 12.)
We are constantly looking for someone to tell us the answer. We must know what is wrong with us and what we need to fix it. When faced with what seem like uncontrollable thoughts, untamable emotions, or undiscoverable depths, we want someone to give us the diagnosis so we can then administer the cure. Oftentimes we want the cure-as-diagnosis, which perhaps is how some of us end up taking some of the above advertised drugs, thinking that a symptom-ridding pill will be the simple solution to the pesky problem of being human and being fallen.
I’m a symptom of this cultural condition; so are you. Let’s face it—whether it’s neurotically referencing WebMD over a small rash only to discover that you might have paranoid schizophrenia, or compulsively taking online personality tests to settle once and for all which character from Community you are (this tells me I’m Abed; cool)—we want some sort of system (scientific or not) to run ourselves through and come out on the other side knowing who we are. We are compelled to know, even if we have to decide for ourselves.
Are we a Type A personality or Type B? Are we right-brain or left-brain? Are we an ESFJ (extroverted-sensing-feeling-judging) or an INTJ (introverted-intuitive-thinking-judging)? And what does it mean, really, for us to be any of these things? How often do we take tests like this and feel speculative or even unsatisfied about the results? Do we already have an idea of ourselves that we can’t or won’t have reversed (however ‘true’ it is or isn’t)? Or maybe we just answered the questions wrong. If we’re unsatisfied with our ‘personality,’ does that mean we don’t like ourselves? Or perhaps we subconsciously value certain personality aspects over others. (For another very fascinating side note after you finish this article, check out this TEDTalk by Susan Cain about the value of the introvert.)
Even we as Christians, who profess that “our identity is hidden with Christ in God,” get caught up in the winds of self-diagnosis and self-definition. Is the above experience with personality quizzes not eerily similar to taking a spiritual gift inventory? Are we a teacher or a giver? Are we an exhorter or a servant? Are we a prophet or a mercy? And what does it mean, really, for us to be any of these things? We go through the same turbulence of speculation and dissatisfaction, the same conflict with our preexisting self-perception, the same doubts regarding the value of any particular gift.
As with Myers-Briggs and the ‘personality phenomenon,’ assessing one’s own spiritual gift becomes skewed when we look to it as a basis for who we are. There’s nothing wrong with knowing. There’s nothing wrong with self-discovery. Heck!—there’s nothing wrong with spiritual gifts tests OR personality tests. The problem lies in deriving our identity from them. In searching for definition, meaning, significance, these are meager methods, and they fall short.
We just have to remember some things:
1. These tests are man-made things and are therefore imperfect. Man can make nothing new under the sun. So while they may be useful tools in self-discovery, they cannot possibly plumb the depths of us fully and truly.
2. These tests are tools, not houses. So while a tool can be successfully implemented in the building of a house or structure, the tool itself cannot be lived in. If we ourselves are being built into spiritual houses, these tests can be useful tools in that construction, the development of who we are, but we will neither find the perfect tool to complete the job on its own nor find a tool that also doubles as a shelter.
3. As the Bride of Christ, we are individual, living stones being assembled and built into the spiritual house of God. That being said, we must remember that spiritual gifts are purposed for the Church, for the Kingdom. They are meant for service. A prophet prophesies because he (she) considers himself (herself) with sober judgment and according to the measure of faith God has assigned him (her). A servant serves because as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function. An exhorter exhorts because we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And so on.
4. People, in general, are much deeper and way more complex than a questionnaire can ever sum up in a four-letter acronym.
5. Only God knows us fully, defines us truly, and makes anything (all things) new.