This morning I was thumbing through a popular Christian magazine I used to subscribe to. I no longer am a subscriber, but they keep sending me issues saying, “Your subscription is expired!” hoping I will re-subscribe.
Anywho…I was looking at the Christian book advertisements in it, and had the impulse to see how many times the word “secret” was employed to pitch the books.
I lost count. But it was more than a couple.
Other words similar to “secret” were used, also. “Hidden treasures” of Jesus’ life on earth. “Breakthrough strategies” of King Solomon. “Cutting-edge” principles to restore your hope in Jesus during economic hard times.
In fact, one book promised to reveal at least twelve hidden secrets to success, happiness and fulfillment by studying the ancient Jewish culture. (Um, when they obeyed God, they prospered. Now you don’t need to buy the book.)
Probably what troubled me most were the books promising to reveal the secret principles of happiness, prosperity, fulfillment–by examining the life of Jesus.
Okay, don’t misunderstand. I believe God’s desire for us is a full, abundant life (in fact, that’s why Jesus said He came). I believe He desires our enjoyment and fulfillment, and delights when we do well. And I have no problem with lovers of God being wealthy–otherwise we’d have to fault guys like Abraham, Solomon, and Job. And I even believe the blessings on the Jewish people are a valid part of God’s covenant, and that Christ-followers are partakers in that blessing. But aren’t we completely missing the point here?
At what point did the Christian walk morph from following Christ to exploiting His example for our own purposes? When did His life become a trove of “hidden secrets” for us to excavate and use to get what we want to make our lives better? When did Christianity stop being a revolutionary lifestyle and turn into a self-help tool to facilitate the American dream?
When did this stop being about Jesus and start being about us?
This whole thing about secret knowledge is no stranger to the church. From the earliest days of the church, the church leaders were teaching and warning against prevalent heresies like Gnosticsm, which claimed that God could only be ascertained by “secret knowledge”. It seems we humans are always intrigued by these secrets–or at least, the idea of them.
Remember when that new-agey type book The Secret came out a few years ago, and how much discussion there was about it, even within the church? In it, the author claims to have discovered the keys to success and getting pretty much whatever you want through positive thinking. It was kind of revealing that church leaders actually came down on both sides of the issue. Some said the whole thing was a crock, while others in the more charismatic faith camps claimed that while the truth was corrupted in it, some of its principles were actually Biblical.
Not having read the book, I’m not here to weigh in on that controversy. What troubles me is the whole idea of secrets here. Secret knowledge that if you get hold of it, it will make you wealthy, healthy, happy, spiritual, sexy, thin, younger, stronger, whatever…with a total absence of acne thrown in for good measure. If there really are “secret truths” that get you all this kind of stuff…then once the book was published and it was no longer a “secret”, why didn’t everyone get rich, happy, sexy, and acne-free by doing what the book said?
Kind of like…why don’t you ever hear about telephone psychics winning the lottery? 🙂
What troubles me about this regarding the church is two-fold: first, that we have bought into the obsession with exclusive secrets, even with our own faith; and second, the very fact that our obsession with those alleged secrets is so incredibly self-indulgent and self-centered. Like I said, we’re not following Christ as much as we are using Him for our own purposes. It’s like we’ve forgotten which of us is God, and which of us isn’t.
What probably troubles me the most, though…is that not too very long ago, I was right in the middle of that mindset–looking for the secrets to my personal success in the name of furthering the kingdom of God–and not thinking anything of it.
Yes, God is unfathomable and infinite; and yes, according to Paul, there are things we can only ascertain with the help of the Holy Spirit. But that does not mean God is keeping secrets, reserved only for the most spiritual or dedicated among us. In fact, just the opposite…the whole thrust of Scripture is that God is revealing Himself.
So these days, when I start hearing someone claim they’ve uncovered some secret key from God to unlock my success box, and want to sell me their book to tell me about it…frankly, I walk quite quickly in the other direction.
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