In secret: the value of humility and anonymity

Many of you have these words of Jesus:  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Could it be that these words, like so many others of Jesus’ are truer, much truer, than we realize?

In my readings for the upcoming symposium of faith and science that I’m attending, I’ve discovered that the deeper one goes down the rabbit hole that is physics, the closer one gets to the mysteries of revelation called theology.  For example:

After Einstein initially posited that the speed of light was the fastest thing in the universe, the reality that two halves of a split atom will always respond in immediate resonance with each other (meaning that a shift in one always means there’s an instantaneous sympathetic shift in the other), led Einstein to publish a paper in 1935 revising his initial thoughts.  His findings came to be known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox.

The point of all this is to posit the possibility that things are more connected than we might believe, and that because of this connectedness, our acts of compassion and generosity contribute to the blessing of “whole of humanity.” not just the single recipient of your kind act.

Caveat:  This isn’t some sort of new-age, “we can change the world” idealism.  I know all about wars and rumors of wars, and the reality that Christ’s return and intervention is our full and final hope.  I know about sin: mine and humanity’s.  There are no illusions here, having to do with realizing my own divinity.  Instead, all this has me thinking about a seeming paradox Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5 he says, “Let your light shine before people so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven,” implying that we’re to be public in our good works, sort of branding ourselves by wearing the Jesus t-shirt while we work in the soup line, and then letting everyone know about it.

But then, in the very next chapter, Jesus says, “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people,” and he goes on to encourage our giving and praying to be done in secret, never with fanfare.

How can I let my light shine AND give, serve, pray, and love in secret?

I wonder if the part of the answer is humming around this paradox of Einstein’s, and this bird theory of Sheldrake’s?  I wonder if the very act of our ‘being’ in Christ, and our subsequent responsiveness to God’s revelation adds light, not just to our immediate circle, but to the whole world?  Couldn’t this be at least part of what Paul meant when he said in Ephesians 3 that “through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities of the heavenly realms”?  Who are these rulers and authorities, and how can God’s people teach heavenly rulers and authorities anything, fallen creatures that we are?

I’m starting to believe that the answer resides in the notion that when we live into our calling to display the goodness of God’s reign by displaying Christ’s character, even in small ways, even in secret ways, some sort of blessing emanates outward (perhaps in a Fibonacci spiral :) ), touching everything in its path in small, but nonetheless real, ways.  If this is true, then every moment of worship, gratitude, prayer, contentment, and real love, have far reaching consequences.  So does every act of generosity, service, creation care, and sacrifice.

How does this tie back to the meek inheriting the earth?  We live in a world that, for 7,000 years has said, “The strong will inherit the earth.  They’ll inherit it by force, slavery, domination, colonialism, war, and genocide.  Last man standing, king of the mMountain, and all that kind of thing.”  In such a world, it takes guts and bold faith to exalt cooperation over competition, to swim upstream against the fear and individualism that saturates our culture in everything from families, to businesses, to churches.  It takes guts to say, “enough,” and live simply, generously, counter-culturally–and to do it all quietly and without fanfare, just for the love of God.  Those who do are looking for a “better country” as Hebrews says:  better than upward mobility and heart-attacks; better than endless consumption and loneliness; better than environmental degradation and oppression; better than any of the kingdoms of this world.

I’m looking around these days and, more than ever, believe there’s a better way than what conventional wisdom has to offer.  It will be seen fully later, but it’s available, in a measure, like a mustard seed, or a spore of yeast, right now.  What are we waiting for?  Let’s jump into it!

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Patrick

    Richard, I like this post, but I really don’t think you should (or need to) use Rupert Sheldrake’s pseudoscience in order to make your point. Other scientists have tested most of his theories, and found them to be false.

    • raincitypastor

      Thanks Patrick… your observation brings up the “little bit of knowledge” piece that both sides of the science/theology spectrum struggle with, and this is why it’s so vital that we share dialogue together.

  • Steve

    Bravo Richard!
    “when we live into our calling to display the goodness of God’s reign by displaying Christ’s character”.
    Keep it up brother.
    This post will be resonating as I head into the mission for another night.

  • http://www.artesedesign.com Joe Artese

    Good and sobering thoughts.
    Regarding your thought on Ephesians 3, I have been reading Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven”. Alcorn suggests that we may well retain our personalities, talents, gifts, and earthly memories in the “Intermediate Heaven” (prior to Christ’s return to set up Heaven on Earth).
    Those of us who find ourselves worthy of serving Jesus in that state, but free of sin, according to Alcorn, may likely be aware of all that is transpiring on Earth.
    If that is the case, then given our accumulated firsthand knowledge of the pain and suffering of this sin filled world, but serving Christ in our new bodies, we might very well be doing duty as Heavenly prayer warriors, interceding and aiding those still living and struggling through their earthly lives.
    It seems to me that as we “experienced” our influence on events down here, we would, naturally see the results or “feedback” and always learning, thus gain increasing Faith and Strength through that interactive experience just as we do now on Earth.
    Thus, “Who are these rulers and authorities, and how can God’s people teach heavenly rulers and authorities anything, fallen creatures that we are? Perhaps, these rulers and authorities may be “us” in our new spiritual bodies, working in a sinless arena, Heaven, in the service of our Lord, Jesus Christ and rejoicing as we triumph in our continuous learning as we assist in making the world ready for Christ’s return.
    Joe Artese

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    Today on my jog, a huge group of Mormons were cleaning the park, painting the buildings in the park, etc. At first I thought, “Wow! That is great what they were doing.” Then I realized, how do I know they are all Mormons? They were all wearing T-shirts that said so. So why were they cleaning the park? It seems to me for public relations.
    As I read your post, I thought of Daniel. Daniel got thrown in the lions’ den because he was praying. But how did they know he was praying? How did he get caught? My theory is that he was doing it so often, that they just knew they would catch him.
    Which brings me to two points to reemphasize your thoughts. First, we need to always analyze our motives for doing something. If we are doing it for public relations or self-promotion, we are doing it for the wrong reason. Second, our “good acts” need to so permeate our lives that blessings naturally flow from our lives to the world around us, and we do “good acts” so much that we cannot help but to be “caught in the act.”

  • Jamie

    Wow. Thank you for posting this. When I share thoughts like this with others, and get dismissed or invalidated over and over again as an “idealist,” a “hippie,” an unambitious and therefore powerless and voiceless person, it over time fades my hope and darkens my spirit. I become more afraid. And that fear feeds negative forces in turn. It’s the same force you are talking about with love and humility that perpetuates and reinforces fear. Our love-based or fear-based motivations are self-reinforcing powers. And to believe that and accept it is to have a more comprehensive understanding of responsibility. We are each responsible for the light and darkness around us, because we are a part of it and it is a part of us.
    I’m majoring in cultural anthropology, and evidence for this expansive influence is everywhere. Frankly, it’s overwhelming. And often after dialogue with my family and community, I feel like I’m in a giant swimming pool with everyone in the world. We’re all splashing and treading water and moving and creating currents. Some of us are studying the waves and laws of the currents, but most of us are getting splashed in our faces, violently pulled around by fast moving currents and undertow- and have know idea what the causes are and how to move peacefully in the water. It’s all reactions upon reactions. One man is suddenly pulled by a current and slapped in the face by a huge splash, and he violently reacts and pushes against the current, splashes back, and kicks his legs and arms in the water harder to keep himself afloat, creating a ton of water movement himself. Others in turn are affected by these movements and react in their own ways.
    I learned a long time ago, growing up in Texas, how to safely stay afloat in water and how to enjoy it. I learned this because, of course, if you can’t swim during the searing summer in Texas, there isn’t much reason to go outside during the day. I learned that above all else, in water, panic and fear will do you in before anything else, and will do so consistently. On the other hand, confidence, hope, faith, and focus are your guides, and also your reward. Treading water is only exhausting when you’re fighting waves, currents, water movement that you don’t and can’t control. But when you’re moving together with the water, you learn to utilize the control you do have. I don’t want to go too far off “the deep end” in this metaphor; I welcome your insights whether in concert with my thoughts or not.
    Mainly I’m relieved and heartened to hear someone in my community, and someone I respect a lot, exploring and inviting us all to explore our interconnectedness, and our consequential responsibility for our actions, be they fear in action or reaction, or love in action or reaction.


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