Spiritual Intelligence


In 1983, Dr Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, proposed a ‘Theory of multiple intelligences’, which differentiates intelligence into various specific modalities, rather than seeing it as dominated by a single ability.


The theory’s eight currently accepted intelligences are:

  • Spatial

  • Linguistic

  • Logical-mathematical

  • Bodily-kinesthetic

  • Musical

  • Interpersonal

  • Intrapersonal

  • Naturalistic

Traditional education measures and rewards the development of logical intelligence and linguistic intelligence to the exclusion of other base intelligences. For example, I will never forget an incident that took place when I was in fifth grade (almost 50 years ago). Our teacher, Mr Mitchell, called one of our fellow students, Michael, to the front of the class, and publicly berated him for scoring 4 out of 64 in an English test. He then summarily banned Michael from participating in any form of school sport for the next two weeks.


I still remember Michael, sobbing convulsively as he was humiliated and punished in the sight of the student body. And nearly 50 years later, I still feel a sense of shame over the way he was treated by that jackass of a teacher. And yet ironically, Michael was the most gifted athlete in the class. He excelled at cricket, football, and anything else he put his hand to that involved running, catching, throwing, and chasing. But unfortunately, it was an intelligence that our school generally, and Mr Mitchell in particular, did not recognise or reward.


To elaborate further, spatial intelligence has to do with spatial judgement and the ability to visualise with the mind’s eye; for example, artists, designers and architects. Linguistic intelligence has to do with words, whether spoken or written; for example, reading, writing, telling stories, memorising dates, times and events, learning foreign languages.


Logical-mathematical intelligence has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning and numbers; for example, scientists, mathematicians, computer programmers, and chess players. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence has to do with the control of one’s bodily motions, the capacity to handle objects skilfully, a perfected sense of timing and the ability to train responses so that they become reflexive; for example, athletes, dancers, actors, builders, surgeons and soldiers.


Musical intelligence has to do with sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones and music; for example, musicians, singers, conductors, orators, writers and composers. Intrapersonal intelligence has to do with intuitive and self-reflective capacities; the ability to interpret the feelings and motivations of oneself and others; for example, philosophers, psychologists, counsellors, lawyers and writers.


Interpersonal intelligence has to do with interaction with others; sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments, and motivations; the ability to communicate effectively and cooperate as part of a group; for example, salespeople, social workers, teachers, coaches and politicians. Naturalistic intelligence has to do with environmental consciousness; for example, farmers, gardeners and conservationists.


However, I would like to propose another type of intelligence which Dr Gardner obliquely referred to as ‘existential intelligence’, but did not incorporate as part of his theory: Spiritual intelligence. This is the intelligence that is demonstrated in various ways and to various degrees by priests, shamans, scientists, mathematicians, physicists, cosmologists and philosophers.


The spiritual intelligence of Jesus

In the eyes of his contemporaries, Jesus was something of a mystic; hearing voices that no one else heard, seeing visions that no one else saw. And if that was all he did, one could have written him off as a hallucinator, a maverick prophet suffering from ‘grandeur’ fever. (I used to live near Nimbin in NSW, so I’ve met a few of them in my time).


However, the thing that distinguished Jesus from the other priests and prophets of his day were the incredible results of his ministry:


Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great multitudes followed him … (Matt. 4:23-25).


In John chapter 5, Jesus revealed the secret of his power: a close, personal relationship with the Heavenly Father.


“My Father has been working until now, and I have been working… the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all things that He Himself does.... I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is righteous, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me” (John 5:17,19-20,30).


Jesus heard the invisible God speak and saw the invisible God act. And it was this kind of spiritual intelligence that made him such a powerful and influential leader. His highly refined spiritual consciousness – his acute spiritual awareness – was the fountainhead from which words and actions proceeded. Standing up in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me …” and in the consciousness of the Spirit being upon him, he went out and healed those who were sick and delivered those who were demonised (Luke 4:18,40-41).


The challenge for us today is to walk just as Jesus walked – with the same awareness of and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:6). The fact is: we are spiritual beings having a temporary human experience. And God has put a sense of eternity – an awareness of the spiritual realm – in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). The spiritual consciousness that is latent within each one of us is quickened by the preaching of the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit.


Training people to use their spiritual senses

The Apostle Paul reproved the Christians in Corinth for not being spiritual people but carnal – ruled by their physical senses (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Moreover, he explained that one cannot perceive the things of the spiritual realm through the five physical senses – they must be spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:9,14). Similarly, Paul accused the Christians in Galatia of starting with the spiritual, and then looking to the material to make them perfect (Gal. 3:3 NEB). He also pleaded with the Galatians to walk in the Spirit and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh – not be governed by the physical/material realm (Gal. 5:16). Clearly, being Christian in belief does not necessarily make one spiritual in practice!


Paul expressed his goal for the believers in 1 Corinthians 12:1; “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” And again in 1 Corinthians 14:1; “…keep cultivating your spiritual gifts” (Williams). Paul wanted them to cultivate a high level of spiritual intelligence- the ability to hear God speak and see God act – thereby constituting the foundation for effective ministry and spiritual productivity.


Interestingly, the word agnoeo, translated ‘ignorance’, denotes a lack of knowledge or perception, and suggests the idea of wilful blindness. We’ve all met people who just don’t know, know that they don’t know, and have absolutely no intention of learning!

The job of a pastor is to teach the people under his or her care how to walk in the Spirit … how to cultivate their innate spiritual intelligence … how to use their spiritual senses … how to hear the voice of God and become aware of his activity in the spiritual realm.


The prophet Elisha possessed an awesome ability to see and hear in the spiritual realm, even reporting the words that the king of Syria spoke in his bedroom in Damascus, over 100 miles away! But like any true leader, Elisha did not want to keep this giftedness to himself. He wanted to empower those around him to fulfil their God-given potential.


When the king of Syria sent an army to surround the city of Dothan and capture the prophet, Elisha prayed for his panic-stricken servant, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see!” And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:12-17). Elisha imparted something of the anointing that was upon him, something of his ability to see and hear in the Spirit, to his servant. And therein lies the goal of spiritual leadership: to reproduce after one’s kind and to empower one’s followers to discover their gifts and fulfil their callings.


The Bible indicates that the human spirit possesses sensory faculties just like the human body. And like the physical senses, the spiritual senses have to be trained to recognise signals and messages, nuances and meanings. Richard Weymouth puts it this way: “those who through constant practice have their spiritual faculties carefully trained to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 514).


To this end, God has placed an invaluable tool at our disposal: the art of meditation – learning to still oneself, look and listen. For it is in the stillness of the soul that one starts to know God in a deep and meaningful way (Psalm 46:10). Franz Kafka, the Austrian philosopher and poet, once said, “You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”


That, my friend, is the pathway to knowing God and the essence of spiritual intelligence.

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