Daniel sets out the dire straits awaiting Israel: Kings, princes and powers rise and fall. Earthly battles reflect a heavenly struggle pre-Revelation. The upcoming geopolitical onslaughts that the prophet describes leave little hope for Israel.
And yet, there is a promise of resurrection: “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1-2).
We are talking about the end times here. Eschatological precision is famously difficult. Even the faithful Daniel would like some hard facts: “I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, ‘O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’ He said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end’” (Daniel 12:8-9). Like Gurf Morlix [above], who “Finds the Present Tense,” Daniel is looking for the pattern, the secret words.
We do not want “the words”—the solution, the checklist, the owner’s manual, the answer key—to be “shut up and sealed until the time of the end.” We want “the words” right now, preferably our own words, rather than God’s, or at least those from God with which we agree.
Like the ancient gnostic heretics, we believe that there is a secret knowledge somewhere, discernible by our efforts, which can overcome the awful situation into which we have been placed through no fault of our own. Illumined by the flare of the Gospel, we see that gnosticism is heresy, yet it persists across thousands of years like a doctrinal cockroach.
How does this work in our daily lives?
The ghastly-cheerful among us disagree, but the Bible describes alienation as the fundamental condition of man. The theological tagline for “alienation” is the doctrine of the Fall. Through the Cross, God provided reconciliation, but he did not re–perfect man, nor did he provide that man could make himself perfect by his own efforts.
The gnostics, then and now, have none of this. They reject both Fall and Cross (“God don’t make no junk” and “My God wouldn’t do that,” respectively). They look to gnosis, secret knowledge, for healing, restoration and perfection.
And are we not gnostics more often than we admit? The gnosis can be science or humanism, but it doesn’t have to be that fancy. Accomplishments, medals, advanced orders, secret handshakes and executive-only suites in academics, athletics, Boy Scouts, college-admissions, sororities and careers all trail the smoke of gnosticism.
Scientology, the cult founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is gnosticism on speed. (In college, I dated a girl who was a former Scientologist. She was the youngest person ever to “clear” in the United States. During that process, she had learned secret words that would, if articulated aloud, vaporize me. This knowledge added complexity to the relationship).
The Gospel tells us that there is no secret knowledge, and that offends us, because we would like to mine our own salvation, refine it and wear it like a jewel. The only knowledge necessary to salvation has already been revealed. Found in the Cross, it is perfect, public and, by grace, free for the taking.