Increased relationship problems, financial burdens, emotional stressors, and social challenges in tandem with decreased physical wellness, vocational satisfaction, and mental health—who couldn’t use some sort of secret formula to make it all better? Some of these very issues led Rhonda Byrne to write a phenomenally popular book, The Secret, but a closer look at the new book reveals no real solutions.
“A year ago, my life had collapsed around me,” Ms. Byrne reveals in the foreword to her book. “I’d worked myself into exhaustion, my father died suddenly, and my relationships with work colleagues and loved ones were in turmoil. Little did I know at the time, out of my greatest despair was to come the greatest gift.”
The beautifully covered, easy-to-read book and accompanying DVD offer anyone the power to change their reality just by adhering to “the law of attraction.” Simply put, “the secret” is that if you think positive and good thoughts, you will attract positive and good things to your life from the universe. An online summary of The Secret asserts, “The Secret reveals the most powerful law in the universe. . . . Without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.” Because following this principle seems so easy, thousands of people are bowing down at the altar of “the secret.” People are hurting desperately, and need help desperately.
The example: the Samaritan woman
In particular, women are becoming some of the most avid proponents of this movement. The story of the Samaritan woman helps us gain a better understanding of the enormous appeal The Secret has for women. In John 4, we find Jesus engaged in a taboo situation of His day: a Jewish man talking with and requesting the help of a Samaritan woman. According to that culture, this woman was not of the right religion or gender. Jesus’ initiation of the conversation and request shocked her. She reminded Him that He was Jewish and she was Samaritan and “never the twain shall meet.” The status of the Samaritan woman, then, reflects a similar status of many women today. The society of that day was male dominated, much like today’s society, although so-called great strides have been made to champion women’s issues. (Many of these changes have caused greater harm than help, but such discussion is beyond the scope of this article.)
Women then and even now can make a legitimate claim to being the oppressed. In many places, women are still denied basic human rights and privileges. Even in the United States, women are seldom recognized as having equal value as their male counterparts. Thus, just as the woman at the well, women are weary of repeatedly going to the well to draw water only to find their thirst not truly satiated. They hurt deeply, and they cannot draw deeply enough from the well. The Secret says, “Let go of difficulties from your past, cultural codes, and social beliefs. You are the only one who can create the life you deserve.” This means that women can go from oppressed to overcomer simply by thinking it to be so.
The story of the Samaritan woman also provides evidence of the significant emotional needs of women. Generally speaking, women are “talkers” and “feelers.” However, for the Samaritan and modern-day woman, important things are made to happen by “thinkers” and “doers,” not talkers and feelers. The Samaritan woman tried to show Jesus that she knew something about thinking and doing by reciting a culturally relevant history lesson and highlighting her knowledge of physics and mechanical engineering (John 4:11, 12). Yet the history and science lesson was not her reality. She was broken emotionally. At least six times she had tried to connect herself with thinkers and doers, but they were men who disregarded her voice and shattered her emotions, leaving her parched and confused.
Similarly, today’s woman is trying to simultaneously climb both the corporate ladder and the club stripper pole in an effort to be loved and give love. The Secret states, “The feeling of love is the highest frequency you can emit. The greater the love you feel and emit, the greater the power you are harnessing”; and “our feelings let us know what we are thinking.” This means sure victory for women who need only to harness feelings and emotions, which come so naturally for them anyway, into channels that promote thinking, doing, and loving.
The Samaritan woman was a prime candidate for “the secret.” In fact, she was already familiar with it and was born into it, as we all are. “The secret” is the ancient lie told in the Garden of Eden: “What God says is not true and can’t be trusted. Chart your own path and you will have it all” (see Genesis 3:4 and 5). The Samaritan woman was looking for some way to mystically change her negative reality into a positive one in which she was in control while not giving up the essence of who she was. What Jesus offered was intensely more authentic and intimate. He showed her that He knew her for who she truly was and loved her anyway, yet He offered her an opportunity to be someone completely new. He clearly declared to her that He is the Messiah, the only One Who can save the world. He could rescue and satisfy her!
The answer: the Word of God
Jesus extends that same offer for women today. Yet how do we help women who embrace “the secret” and not the Savior? I suggest a little healthy competition. What does the Word of God have to say in contrast with The Secret?
First, The Secret offers me what I want, but the Word offers what I need. God promises to supply all my needs according to His riches in glory, and really, that is what I want.
Second, The Secret offers me the opportunity to know who I am, while the Word offers me the blessing of knowing Who God is. Frankly, who I am is not all that grand. I don’t always do what is right. But knowing Who God is transforms me into a “new creation.”
Third, The Secret offers intrigue and mystery and the thrill of the unknown. God’s Word offers security and hope in His sovereignty (besides, there is enough mystery in God’s ways to keep us busy for eternity).
Fourth, The Secret encourages me to think good thoughts, yet what’s good for me can potentially be bad for someone else. Instead, God’s Word helps me think “God” thoughts. With my thinking controlled by the Holy Spirit, I know that the actions I take will be right for me and everyone else.
Finally, The Secret gives me permission to love myself, because I am magnificent, and “the time to embrace [my] magnificence is now.” However, the Word offers me the unconditional love of God and the marvel of being made in His image.
The test: what to believe
God’s Word is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, . . . and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NASB). Additionally, God promises that His word “will not return to [Him] empty, without accomplishing what [He] desire[s], and without succeeding in the matter for which [He] sent it” (Isaiah 55:11, NASB). God’s Word can stand up to the challenge of The Secret and will be victorious. The real test is determining which message will be believed.
Messages not from God often have some “God sounding” ideas. In fact, Rhonda Byrne quotes Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24 in the chapter titled “How to Use the Secret.” After all, the Bible says to ask and you will receive. Further, messages that are not of God often claim universal application, but they cannot deliver. Recall that “the secret” is offered without exception to every human being. In detailing how the production of The Secret DVD came about, Ms. Byrne noted that the majority of the teachers were based in the United States and that she had to travel from Australia to interview the fifty-five top educators.
Thankfully, the Word of God is not limited in its effectiveness to only those who belong to the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world. It transforms the lives of impoverished, uneducated, vulnerable AIDS orphans in remote villages of South Africa, who have had good and positive thoughts about many wonderful things but could not attain them. I dare say, “the secret” cannot fare well under those circumstances, yet God through His Word heals people in those very situations, both physically and spiritually.
The challenge: investigate the Savior
Encourage women (and men) you know who are investigating the claims of The Secret to investigate the claims of the Savior. Like the Samaritan woman, they will find that the true secret to life is found in “the secret place of the Most High,” the very heart of God.
Kezia McNeal (PhD, Emory University) is assistant professor of education at Georgia State University.