Thursday 18 January 2007

Secrets included

Where did I get the idea that God knows my ‘inner life’—what I’m thinking, my emotions that remain unexpressed, my lusts and temptations, my dreams. After all, it is counter-intuitive. I’d started to think that maybe I’d gleaned it from Romantic literature and the mystics rather than the Scriptures. But then I opened Matthew 6. Three times, Jesus recommends private religious activity—giving to the needy, praying, fasting—each time contrasting the reward received by displaying these activities before others with the ‘secret reward’ that God grants when these deeds are done for His eyes only.

“And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”, Jesus repeats after each instruction.

Without words such as these (and there are plenty more in Scripture, now that I’m thinking of it), there would be no basis for morality beyond public laws. None of my thoughts, feelings, inclinations, prayers, would matter in the slightest. But because of these words of Jesus, I am beholden to God for all that I am, inside and out.

It is an idea that supports the hope that in the end, true justice will be done by God, since God knows all, secrets included.

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Mister Tim said...

One night over drinks, a friend of a friend (not a Christian) was telling stories about their experience living in Japan, most of which involved sexual promiscuity: several times they said to me that it was such a 'dirty' country (meant in a moral way).

I asked why they thought this was: they said that in the West, we think that God is always watching us - no matter what we do - and so what we do always matters. Even if we are no longer a Christian country, that ethos is ingrained in our society.

In Japan, they have never had such a concept, so what you do in private doesn't matter, as long as you don't get caught; on the other hand, because it's a shame-based culture, what you do in public (or what you get caught doing) matters very much.

Greg Clarke said...

Thanks, Tim. I used to think that the sense of 'inner accountability' was natural (part of the Tao, as C.S.Lewis would say—an idea explained well in this article). However, it is increasingly obvious to me that I'm wrong.

byron smith said...

What about Psalm 139? Isn't that the other locus classicus of God's knowledge of all our secrets?

Mister Tim said...

In terms of God knowing our innermost secrets, we could also look to Hebrews 4:12, or Acts 15:8-9.

Also, I would have looked to Jesus' teaching on lust and anger in Matthew 5 - if what is really sinful is the attitude of the heart, then it follows that God must know what we are really thinking/feeling.

David McKay said...

In the end, it is good and for our good that God knows all our thoughts and actions.

I take it that it is not true that Satan does too, but that he or one of his slaves may observe our actions and deduce our thoughts, but they don't have access to our inner person as God does.

Lara said...

There is also Proverbs 20:27. I've been reading a lot about this recently in connection with the Cambridge Platonists. Apparently Clement of Rome and Gregory the Great interpreted this verse as referring to God searching our hearts. This interpretation was overshadowed by the scholastic emphasis on natural reason, but revived during the Reformation. The 1560 Geneva bible linked this verse with Hebrews 4:12.

Anonymous said...

I, like Byron, also thought about Ps.139. Your point about Jesus addressing the inner not just the outer gains even greater weight in the Sermon on the Mount when you consider that he is discussing a "righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees." (Mat.5:20)

Anonymous said...

Greg, just realized that the link to my blog had an "inner working" deficiency :)

Have rectified the problem