In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” there is a character, Gollum, who flees into the caves of the mountains, expecting to find all sorts of wonderful mysteries hidden in the deep, secret places of the earth. Instead, the author notes, after some time he had found that, “all the ‘great secrets’ under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing…”
Tolkien disliked attempts to allegorize his writing, but nevertheless, there is herein a good parable concerning the quest of men for “secret knowledge.”
It is often the case that men are dissatisfied with that which is right in front of them, and we frequently believe that we must go afield in order to find something new and better than that which we already have access to. The grass, we believe, must be greener elsewhere, and it seems impossible that beauty and wisdom might be found close to home. An expert, it has been said, is a person who lives more than 50 miles away. Vacations must be taken in remote, “exotic,” places. And truth is to be discovered hidden away from the ignorance of the masses.
The Gnostics of the first and second centuries were heretics who claimed that they had secret knowledge which could only be revealed by participation in their rites and services. They were the Christian equivalent of what were called “mystery cults,” where participants were given more and more “secret” knowledge, the further and higher they went within the cult.
This Gnostic idea of “secret wisdom,” did not die with the Gnostics. Through the years, various false religions, sects, cults, and even political movements promise their members a secret, or hidden, understanding of the world. Many promise that the more money you donate, the longer you spend with them, and the more devoted you are, the more you will learn of the so-called mysteries. It is assumed, of course, that the leaders of such movements have the most insight into such things.
Without exception, in the end, such mysteries are revealed to be lies, and the hidden wisdom is frequently nothing more than a con used to fleece others of their money, or an attempt to garner power and prestige for the leaders of the movement.
God, in His word, warns against this temptation to seek after hidden wisdom, attempting to find secret understandings of the world. Proverbs for instance, teaches the believer, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. (Proverbs 18:4; ESV)”
The ocean waters, so deep and mysterious, are not only undrinkable, but they are also a good place to drown. The bubbling brook, on the other hand, may not be wide, or deep, but its waters are life-giving. In the same way, the wisdom that comes from God is neither hidden nor mysterious.
Concerning the creation of God, the Psalmist writes, “The heavens reveal the glory of God, and the sky displays his handiwork; day to day pours out speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge; there is no speech or words whose voice does not hear (Psalm 18:1-3),” meaning God has revealed Himself to all men through His creation (cf. Romans 1:19-20). Likewise, concerning the plan of God for men, the Psalms declare, “The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations (Psalm 98:2; ESV).”
There is nothing secret about the Gospel of Christ. Jesus Himself noted concerning His preaching, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. (John 18:20; ESV)” Still today, the principles of Christianity are available to all the world in the words of the Bible. There is no great secret to obtaining the salvation Christ offers. The principles of love, mercy, kindness, patience, and all the other virtues advocated by the Lord, are not hidden subjects revealed only to a select few. If you were to serve as a Christian for a hundred years, the message would remain the same as it was when you were newly born into Christ. And any teacher, prophet, religion or spiritual leader which promises to reveal hidden understanding of the world is one to guard against lest we delve into deep mysteries only to discover, at the end, “empty night.”
The church of Christ invites you to study the pure word of God with us, and join us in worship, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have questions or comments please send them our way as well.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.