File under: fanboy delirium
Any reader of comic books knows that the key to a good superhero is a secret. The secret is the source of the drama, the conflict, and the character motivation. Peter Parker, Barry Allen, Billy Batson, Tony Stark: they mean little without their secrets: Spider-Man, The Flash, Captain Marvel, Iron Man.
I believe the same is true of the great conflicts in the Gospel: secrets are powerful.
Secrets can refer to many different things, but in the context of the Church we think of two different kinds of secrets: secret knowledge from Heaven and secret knowledge about others.
The idea that God holds things secret can be shocking to newcomers to our faith, but it is a fundamental principle. The greatest secret, the mystery of Christ’s atonement, is hidden from the wise, and revealed only to those that believe as little children (See Matt. 11:25-27). The history of secret combinations, cults, and pyramid schemes are worldly twists upon the mystery of God’s love. Rather than take the difficult step of turning our hearts and opening ourselves to God’s greatest secret, we prefer Da Vinci Code-style mysteries and secrets, as if they are somehow more revelatory of real knowledge.
The story of Cain as told in the book of Moses is the ur-text for learning how the world twists God’s secret knowledge. Cain makes sacrifices to God at Satan’s command, which sacrifices the Lord does not respect. Cain, angry at his rejection, loves Satan more than God, and swears a secret oath with Satan in exchange for power over his brother Abel. Cain calls himself Master Mahan, possessor of a grand secret that gives him power in the world. Lamech, Cain’s grandson, enters into a similar oath, for getting gain, and the earth is cursed (Moses 5:29-56).
I believe it is rare for us to be presented with a clear-cut opportunity to enter into secret combinations with Satan (unless you run a large group blog). Far more likely is the scenario where we have access to the secrets of others. This is where Batman comes in.
Everyone knows that Batman is really billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Batman guards his secret closely, with only a handful of people knowing his true identity. However, Batman also belongs to the Justice League, where secrets are opened to each other in the name of teamwork and cooperation. Permit me to share with you the story of the infamous “Tower of Babel” incident, as a super-fantastic cautionary tale to all of us.
Batman has trust issues. So much so, that he keeps a secret file of his fellow Justice Leaguers, detailing their identities, strengths, and weaknesses. He does this because in superhero-land, friends can become enemies quickly, twisted, cloned, or taken over by mind-control aliens (in fact, all of these have happened — several times — to Batman’s friends over the years).
In the Tower of Babel episodes, Batman’s enemy, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson’s character in Batman Begins) breaks into the Batcave and steals Batman’s secret files. He then promptly uses Batman’s secret knowledge to defeat the rest of the Justice League.
All of Batman’s friends have their secrets used against them: kryptonite for Superman, freezing then shattering Plastic Man, etc. The trust they placed in Batman is the cause of their undoing.
And although the team manages to save the day at the end, the trust they once had in Batman is gone, and they vote to kick him out of the Justice League.
Consider for a moment the relative secrets and motivations of these two subjects, Batman and Cain. Cain seeks secret power over his hated brother, to rule and reign over his siblings despite his unrighteousness. His sacrifices rejected, Cain ignores the divine knowledge for worldly gain and profit. Batman, on the other hand, sees himself as a protector. He gathered the secrets of his friends in order to defend himself and others against attack. Ultimately, their stories take a similar turn: Cain is cursed and cast out, and Batman is hated and cast out of the Justice League by his teammates. Neither is trusted again.
Secrets are powerful, whether we discover the Divine mystery of Christ’s atonement, or the private knowledge others have entrusted to us. As members of a church community, sooner or later we’ll become privy to both types of secrets, and the temptation to misuse them is great. A bishop learns the confessions of his congregation; a ward clerk learns the tithing amounts of families; a visiting teacher discovers the private heartache of another sister. But it’s really easy to reveal these confidences, hold them over the heads of others, or just gossip for the sake of the spotlight and popularity good secrets can afford. If we do this, we are lost.
The duty is clear: we keep these secrets for others, not for ourselves. We can take the pearls God gives us and cast them before swine; We can seek power over others or wealth from personal confidences. But if we want to be trusted — by God and others — then we must keep secrets for the sake of others, not ourselves.