Secrecy, Mystery, and Privacy

Share

Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Every year one of the highlights of Winter Carnival here in Saint Paul is the search for the medallion. It’s a winter tradition, a treasure hunt for folks well-versed in Saint Paul history and folklore. There is something in each of us that loves discovering and likewise something in each of us that dreads being discovered. In fact, I think fear of being discovered is one of the fundamental fears of human nature, so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that most of us barely notice how powerful and pervasive it is. We also rarely contemplate how foreign it is to the nature of God.

God has no secrets. He never dreads discovery, never fears being found out. He has no secret plans and no hidden agenda. Yet this is not to say that the truth about God is readily available or easily obtained. God has no secrets, but he does have mysteries. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Prov 25:2). When God conceals, it is to reward, not frustrate, the searcher. Searching out God’s mysteries is not easy. It is a fit matter for kings, requiring all their resourcefulness. God is like those who hide the medallion for Winter Carnival. He wants to reward the persistent and resourceful, those who make use of every clue and every tool available to them to discover what he has hidden. God plays a cosmic game of hide-and-seek with his children. Those who are not his children refuse to play and never find him.

Human beings have secrets. There are things they want to keep hidden from everyone, especially God. One of the devil’s most powerful lies is to tell us that we are alone in our guilt and shame, that anyone who knows our deepest secrets would be utterly repulsed by them. We dread being found out, being exposed. Perhaps this is why the story tells us that Adam and Eve realized they were naked and hid themselves from God. They dreaded his all-seeing gaze. They were ashamed of having disobeyed and preferred concealment to the open communion they had enjoyed before.

Taken to an extreme, secrecy—the dread of discovery—can itself produce terrible evils. People lie and allow others to be blamed for what they themselves have done. They become hypocrites, condemning in others what they secretly practice. Secrecy is appropriate for dark deeds, but God’s light eventually shines everywhere. The darkness is light to him, and every secret will ultimately be revealed.

It is symptomatic of our day that we confuse secrecy and privacy. Privacy is a kind of public modesty. It covers what is well-known in general but inappropriate for specific, public discourse. Privacy makes no attempt to hide but rather to be discreet. For example, my bank account number is hardly secret; it’s printed on every one of my checks. But it is private, no one’s business but mine and my bank’s. To varying degrees the same could be said of my address, phone number, email address, and Social Security number. These are all bits of information about me that could be used by someone wanting to pose as me, but I make no extraordinary effort to conceal them from those closest to me. However, if I were cheating on my wife or running a Ponzi scheme, I would make every effort to conceal such things from those who know me best. I would do so not because I have a right to privacy in sexual or financial matters but because I would be doing something I know to be wrong, and I would dread discovery and its consequences.

Share
This entry was posted in religion, sin, theology. Bookmark the permalink.