Chapter OneGods and Genies
OK. Before I get started, I have a confession to make. I'm an apprentice
of Jesus Christ, and though I am a fan of Rhonda Byrne and her team's
treatment of the law of attraction, I am a critical fan. I am very excited
about what Byrne has communicated in the 2006 best-selling self-help
book The Secret, and the film documentary of the same name. But at the
same time, I do not start or end in the same philosophical place that the
book does. For example, I do not believe that human beings are evolving
into gods; we will always need God. Neither do I believe that
humankind can self-save; we need a Savior. I believe that Jesus Christ
knew this so-called secret, but he still had to die-the concept alone will
not save us. Further, I feel that Byrne and company left too much room
for material greed, social apathy, and the blaming of victims for the horrific
events that occur in their lives. (I'm not suggesting that was their
intention, but it is still a problem.) This does not mean, however, that I
don't think the book has many good things to say-it does. In fact, I
want to spend the bulk of this writing expanding on the treasure that it
explores. We'll talk about the problems as we go along.
What Is It?
We only have one shot at life. Consequently, I think we should write
our lives large-we should decide to matter. This idea helps us do
that. It touches every aspect of our lives-from our finances to our
health to our relationships. When understood, it unearths the hidden,
untapped power within each of us-pagan or saint.
This is not some complex, hard-to-grasp idea. It is simply the law
of attraction. This law, plainly stated, is: Everything coming into your
life is the result of what you have been attracting to your life. Your life is
not the way it is by accident; it is the product of cause and effect. In
a sense, how you live your life is a magnet, which draws the events that
occur into your life-both good and bad.
Though this may sound scary at first (everything is my fault?), what
a great discovery it is! This means that you and I have a lot to say about
how happy our lives can be. When we learn how the law of attraction
works, we can "work it" to keep the good things we enjoy coming into
our lives while refusing access to the bad things.
But is that really possible?
There are many who believe that whatever is destined to be, will
be. They think that humans have nothing to do with the future;
that is God's sphere. Things only happen, these folks contend,
because of God's sovereignty, and human beings don't really cause
anything to happen that God wouldn't have done anyway. This
group would argue that our thoughts, beliefs, and actions are more
of an aside, because God will do what God will do, irrespective of
what humans do.
But if God had really wanted to create a world where humanscouldn't control things, then why did he create a world filled with
laws-laws so specific and predictable that we can send a person to
the moon and predict within a fraction of a second when he or she
will land there? What if God created laws precisely so that we humans
could have more control over our lives? The great apostle Paul
claimed, "All things are yours, whether . the world or life or
death or the present or the future-all are yours." In another place
he wrote, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps
what he sows."
These texts assert that the way we participate in the world God created
is much the same way a farmer participates with the laws of
nature. A farmer who wants the earth to yield a corn crop must learn
to cooperate with nature to get it. Nature does not select the kind of
harvest-it waits for the farmer to decide. The farmer makes that
choice. He predicts the field's future by the kind of seed that is sown
there. To "attract" corn, the farmer simply plants corn seed. This is the
way the law of attraction works.
Creation works the same way for you and me. God doesn't determine
on his own how wonderful our lives are. To some degree, we
control the level of success that we enjoy in our marriages, finances,
careers, parenting, etc., based on whether or not we cooperate with
the laws God placed here. We can have happiness or heartache, on
purpose. We can attract whatever it is that we want to attract-the
truth is, we are doing that now. Learning how this law works doesn't
make it work-it works all the time-but learning how it works helps
us to "work it" to our advantage instead of to our disadvantage.
Newton's third law of motion states: For every action, there is an
equal and opposite reaction. This is another way to express the law of
attraction. Jesus Christ showed us how the law of attraction, aka "the
Secret," works in our relationships with others: "Do not judge, and
you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be
condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be
given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure-pressed
down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of
measure it will be measured to you in return."
This means that if you smile at someone, he most likely will smile
right back. If you are mean to a person, chances are, she will be mean
to you. If you are genuine and kind to others, you are almost certain
to have others express kindness in return. If you are critical of everything
and everyone, you can expect a hefty dose of critical judgment
from others in your life. You attract what you put out. The law of
attraction is at work for everyone, everywhere, all the time, whether
one understands it or not.
Believers in God often get mixed up on the balance between the
things we are to do and the things God does. There is a story of a rancher
out west who received a visit from his pastor. As the rancher showed the
preacher around the property, with its well-maintained outbuildings,
fences, and manicured lawns, the pastor declared rather piously, "My,
how God has blessed this property!"
In a straightforward manner the rancher replied, "I guess . but
you should have seen it when he had it all by himself."
If we are not careful, those of us who are God-followers will be
guilty of something Jesus Christ warned us about. In his parable of the
talents (Matt. 25:14-29), he urged people to work with the potential
they had been given by God. But he said that some would be so oriented
to the sovereignty of God that they would basically do nothing
and resign themselves to fate. In other words, they'd join the Doris
Day crowd, singing, "Que será será, whatever will be, will be ."
Jesus said that this bunch believed that God, like the master in his
story, harvests what he has "not sown" and gathers where he has "not
scattered seed." In other words, humans don't have to do jack-God
does it all. Jesus said this group buried their potential "in the ground"
(v. 25)-and God was not happy about it.
But there is danger on both sides of this issue.
Proponents of the latest usage of the law of attraction claim that it
gives us everything we could ever desire-happiness, health, and wealth;
that we can do or be anything we want; and that we can possess anything
we choose-no matter how big. We are asked, "What kind of
home do you want to live in?" or, "Do you want to be a millionaire?"
We are told, "Miracles happen when you know how to apply the
`Secret.'" American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) once
wrote, "The secret is the answer to all that has been, all that is, and all
that will ever be." Quoting Emerson, advocates of the beliefs I just
described claim that the great secret of life is this: each of us works with
one infinite power-the law of attraction.
But they leave out a very critical piece. It turns out that there is
more to the "Secret."
We Share the Power
When personal computers first appeared in the 1980s, installing new
programs or peripherals (like printers or scanners) was more than a
"plug-and-play" event. It wasn't unusual for your whole computer to
stop working after adding a new program that was supposed to make
life easier. Then you would have to spend hours on the phone with
the software provider's "help desk" as a technician walked you through
the arduous process of rewriting hidden program lines (such as CONFIG.SYS).
It was a mess.
The reason there were so many problems is that software developers
designed their software on PCs that contained no other programs.
Hence, they could marshal all their PCs' resources for the execution of
the programs they were developing. Not a bad thing to do-if all PCs
ran only one program. But they don't. But that didn't stop the engineers
from altering their computers' internal codes in order to most efficiently
run their own programs. It was a dog-eat-dog, every-company-for-itself
programming world. And as consumers began to load one new program
after another onto their computers, applications began to conflict with
one another, fighting for limited internal resources, and systems began
to lock up. (I wish I had a dollar for every hour I have spent on the
phone line with "Technical Support," clearing up "conflicts.") We've
come a long way, baby.
As Byrne and her associates lay out the anatomy of The Secret, I
can't help but feel that they are making a mistake similar to that of the
early PC program developers. The repeated emphasis in their treatment
of the idea is on each person's individual power and control
while using the law of attraction. The problem is, there isn't just one
person using that law-more than one program is running in the universe.
We don't use the law of attraction in a vacuum-there are other
players, other forces in motion.
For example, in the book the Byrne team claims that we attract everything
that happens to us-even the bad things, like car accidents. While
that may be true in some cases, it is an oversimplification of reality.
Consider the Holocaust. Is it really plausible that six million Jews all
"attracted" this unimaginable horror into their lives, all on their own? Or
were there other forces in play-such as unlimited power in the hands
of an insane dictator named Hitler? And what about the abuse and
murder of children? Did the victims "imagine" and "attract" those things
to themselves? If not, then why did it happen to them? Did the law of
attraction that "works for all people everywhere at all times" not work in
their case, or are there other forces in motion-like a sick perpetrator?
And what about God? Supporters of today's practice of the law of
attraction are almost silent about him. That's odd when you consider
that most people believe in God. In their iteration of The Secret, Byrne's
group seems to hold to the notion that if God created what is, then he
is certainly no longer present in it-at least not in any relevant way.
There is no "Big Plan." And if God does exist, then he (or she?) is apparently
distant and unknowable-living well outside the affairs of the
world, which do not or cannot touch him. They suggest that the universe
is instead a kind of genie that exists purely to grant our every wish-our
wish is Genie's command. And "Genie" is granting wishes at this very
moment-good ones and bad ones. Understanding this idea, they say, is
the key to getting the universe to grant you only the good wishes.
This Is God's Story
In the Christian tradition, there are no genies. Each person is a dream
of God come true; a destiny; a planned and purposeful being that God
placed in the world as a unique character in his unfolding story.
Scripture claims that God "determined the times" in which we would
be born and planned "the exact places" that we would live. The
psalmist declared, "All the days ordained for me were written in your
book before one of them came to be."
This means that each one of us matters, and how we fit in this world
works toward a telos-an "end"-of a goal-directed process concocted
by God himself. For God-followers, this isn't a land for the "survival of
the fittest"-it is a world for the predestined. But instead of looking
for God's predestined plan, many think they are making up their own
story. Contrary to what Byrne tells us, the secret tucked away in history
involved human beings, not making up their own stories but finding
their places in the story being told by someone else-God. The most
ancient revealing of this fact viewed creation as full of God's purposeful
ideas-there was a place for everything and everyone. The law of
attraction wasn't used to attract just anything; it was used to attract the
telos of God. It revealed that each of us is born into God's world and
that it is his stage; we are but participants in his play. The psalmist said,
"Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his."
My wife, Gail, and I recently went to a play featuring our beautiful
daughter-in-law, Erin. She had one of the lead roles. After the show, we
showered her with kudos and asked her how she felt the performance
went. In response, she talked mainly about how she thought she did
with her role. There was no complaining about the others onstage, no
wishing that she'd had their lines, no attempt on her part to take over
another's role, and no discussion of how she wished she could rewrite
the script or direct the show differently. She measured her success by
how well she performed the job assigned to her.
This is how we should hit the stage of life. This is central to the
idea-and the very reason why God created the law of attraction. We
should refuse to try to write, produce, direct, or choose the part we
want to perform in our own play. We need to see God as the Writer,
Producer, and Director. Our ambition should be to discover our individual,
God-destined role and then perform that role large.
Somehow realizing that we are here to cooperate in something bigger
than ourselves gives us a bridge to a transcendent life-access to an existence
that is bigger than one of our own crafting, larger than the immediate
desires of selfish people, with their ever-expanding needs. This
"roots" us in something grander, something bigger, something eternal.
In a dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself world, where nothing is
more important than number one, searching for God's telos is seen as
irrelevant, because it is connected to something other than self. But
this discovery gives a new self-worth based on an identity valued by
God-it links our personal competency to fruitfulness for more than
just ourselves. This doesn't deplete us as persons; it leads us to God.
And our sense of identity is emboldened through union with Life
larger than oneself.
This is how we participate in what is referred to as the kingdom
of God. We anticipate that God will act; we expect God to act. We
just don't know where or when. But we listen, and we continue to
walk in the law of attraction as a gesture of our love and pursuit of
God. A life committed to discovering a telos created by God gradually
fills us with a spirit of expectation that all good things will be
given to the obedient heart-we will eat "the fat of the land." Jesus
says that it is when we are willing to lose our lives (in God's telos)
that we find them.