‘You hold in your hands a dangerous weapon, loaded with the secrets of three women from Gilead. They are risking their lives for you. For all of us. Before you enter their world, you might want to arm yourself with these thoughts:
Knowledge is power and
History does not repeat itself but it rhymes’
From her opening lines of her latest feminist novel, The Testaments, Margaret Atwood lured me in. They weren’t even the opening lines thinking about it- they were the hook on the inside dust cover. Promises of secrets revealed. A tempting offer to the reader that they would have masterful perspective on all lives concerned, secrets revealed, knowledge and power.
Knowledge is power.
To be in the know is to be powerful. A friend with a secret, a teacher with the facts, a parent with perspective. To be kept in the dark feels uncomfortable. Secrets can feel isolating. Information purposefully with-held can make others feel controlled, manipulated, kept at a distance. That is the message that we are told over and over in our relationships, in books, on television. Everyone has a right to knowledge. Knowledge is freedom. Knowledge is power. Guarding information is manipulative, abusive, and sexist. That is the message of The Testaments. Knowledge belongs to the highest ranking, to the powerful, to the men.
“What my father was doing was said to be very important- the important things that men did, too important for females to meddle with because they had smaller brains that were incapable of thinking large thoughts… It would be like trying to teach a cat to crochet…. That would make us laugh. How ridiculous. Cats didn’t even have fingers!!”
Atwood has a point. That is the message of the world because that is the message we live out in our broken relationships. That is how we abuse and misuse the power that comes with our knowledge, and it is a far cry from the way God shows and shares his knowledge with us. The problem is we have seen the brokenness and pain that comes from secrecy and knowledge abuse in our human relationships and we have reimposed them back onto God. We then come to Scripture, and have to pause and re-read verses like the first part of Deuteronomy 29v29:
‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God….’.
‘That feels uncomfortable’ we think. Secrecy is a dirty word, a shameful word, and brings up all sorts of negative connotations. We then impose these things onto God and start believing he’s trying to control, to manipulate, to withhold, to spoil our pursuit of knowledge. After all, he specifically stopped Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He forbade. he denied. He prevented and controlled. He wanted the secret things all to himself.
The problem is this is exactly the distorted view Satan was aiming at sneaking into the minds and hearts of God’s children in the garden and he succeeded. In Atwood’s The Testaments, the ‘Aunts’ are entrusted with the raising of pure chaste girls in Gilead, free from the corruption of the world around them in an attempt to raise a new generation unstained by sin. In one teaching session, Aunt Vilda says this:
‘Forbidden things are open to the imagination. That was why Eve ate the Apple of Knowledge, said Aunt Vidal’s: too much imagination. So it was better not to know some things. Otherwise your petals would get scattered.’
Atwood has identified the message of the Satan in the garden, albeit associating the distorted view with the ‘godfearers’ of her novel. I wonder though, do we secretly allow these distorted images of God to settle in our hearts and minds. When we reach a limit in our understanding of a situation, when we despair and shout and rage at the unanswered whys, whens, and hows, are we screaming at a God who is unfair, who doesn’t understand, who is perversely and manipulatively messing with us and deliberately withholding information because he’s got a control issue, or are we unburdening and pouring out our despair and pain, our frustration and hurt to our heavenly Father who does know all things, to whom the secret things do belong, and before whom our understanding is painfully finite?
Holding on to God as our Father, as our perfect heavenly Father who only works for the good of his children re-orientates our thinking, and allows the truth to be stored up as treasure in our heart, rather than the lie to settle and fester, that God’s perfect knowledge is perfect power, his omniscience and his omnipotence beautifully perfectly joined and working together. The amazing doctrine of the simplicity of God means all that he, he is! He is is perfectly united, perfectly one. God cannot be separated into parts, and so all his attributes are gloriously beautifully united. His knowledge cannot be separated from his power, his love from his mercy, his justice from his goodness.
Because of the simplicity of God, we can with full confidence say that his perfect knowledge is perfect power, his knowledge is good, his knowledge is loving, his knowledge is merciful, his knowledge is just, his knowledge is kind. The same is true for the way God reveals his knowledge. The same is true for the way he keeps some knowledge secret to himself, within his trusted fellowship as Father, Son and Spirit. When he decrees certain things as secret, as belonging to himself, and therefore not to us, he does so as our perfect heavenly Father, with perfect power, with perfect love and perfect goodness.
Corrie ten Boom, in The Hiding Place shares a memory of her Father that beautifully captures this.
“And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexism?”
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.
Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
It’s too heavy,” I said.
Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
I have fought against God, tried to peer into the unknown, the secret things. I am about to move out of a house where I have screamed out on my knees questioning the whys of no more children, where I have received phone calls telling me of loved ones struggling in the fight of mental illness, where I have had playdates with friends who laugh at the gospel and can’t understand the life we choose as a family. I have yelled, I have choked on my tears, I have spent time in stubborn silence with God because of the unknown whys and whens and hows.
He has received all my heart as my loving Father. He has a knowledge about every one of those situations, a knowledge of my heart and those involved, a good, loving, gracious, wise, purpose for my life, for his kingdom, and for the hearts of others that far surpasses the information I had at the time. He is the perfect loving Father unwilling for his child to carry more than they can bear.
The time may never come to carry the suitcase of certain journeys. I may never know the whens hows whys in this life. But there is always a revealed knowledge amidst the secret things that belong to him. I will always know the who.
Through all the unknown, at every barrier my finite knowledge confronts me with, before every secret thing that belongs to God, I walk, run, rest with God. With my heavenly Father, who alone can carry the burden, the responsibility, the weight, the power that comes with perfect knowledge. He doesn’t promise me perfect knowledge. He promises me himself.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.