We value show and display. We love seeing and being seen. This is true in every time period. The Roman nobility made grand public appearances. Nineteenth-century English aristocrats appeared at ballroom dances. We differ from them only slightly. We have People Magazine and also egalitarian platforms like Instagram and Twitter. So we can all be perfectly visible, all the time. This is merely a technological flowering of the human wish to be a celebrity, to be known, to be at the center of attention.
By contrast, life in Christ offers hiddenness. Why is this a good thing? Isn’t being unknown and unseen one of the worst possible evils? Well, it depends. Not being known by one’s parents, for instance, is a serious loss. But why should total strangers know anything about us? There is, rather, a significant danger in having all our deeds on public display. People that don’t know us misunderstand us and criticize us more easily. Observers presume your good deeds have a bad intention. And bad actions are praised as good by people that don’t know any better.
Tragically, this can be true even of people that do know us. It’s so easy to misunderstand and to be misunderstood, even by family and friends. We know that tone of voice can’t be perceived through email very easily. But it’s even possible to fail to communicate face-to-face with another human person.
We hear a sharp contemporary cry: “No one understands me!” What happens if our efforts to publicize our goodness in person or through social media fail? We are then forced to fall back on our hiddenness: hiddenness with Christ in God. God knows us. He understands us: completely and totally. There’s nothing we can do of ourselves to make him love us more or to listen to us more carefully. He already does: comprehensively and exhaustively. He knows our resting and rising, and all our thoughts lie open to him. We are supremely visible to God.
This attitude is lived most concretely by monks and nuns. Trappists, Benedictines, and Carthusians are hidden from human eyes and placed squarely before the divine eyes. And in the life to come, all who have lived this hiddenness with Christ in God will be well-known indeed. This is the case because our life on earth, or what we typically call life, is only a seed. It is the beginning of the life of heaven. And a seed ought to stay hidden. Otherwise it won’t grow. If we’re always digging it up, inspecting it, and shining bright lights on it, it won’t grow. It will die. And earthly acquisition of fame has a similar danger. If we’re constantly in the digital public glare, more dangers to growth in the spiritual life will present themselves. Thankfully, by the time we are resurrected in glory, fallen human nature will have been transformed by God.
When we live as if our lives are for God’s eyes alone, we will be concerned about his opinion of us. And everyone else’s opinion will take its proper position in a hierarchy of importance. At any rate, the credit goes to God for anything worth noticing in ourselves.