A Profound Secret


Who but a former English teacher would take such interest in the following quote from the beginning of Chapter Three of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities?

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

I was enjoying a solitary walk at the mall recently when I started thinking about the other walkers I encountered. Despite the variety of ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, almost all of them were unfailingly pleasant. And why wouldn’t they be?

Even though most of us weren’t walking together, we shared a common activity. And we tended to greet one another as if we were old friends.

But then the Dickens passage quoted above came to mind. How much did I know about my fellow walkers? And how much did they know about me? Basically nothing. We were all limited to what we could see. Each of us was truly a “profound secret and mystery” to all of the others.

I hadn’t been working at Target very long–this was about nine years ago–when Anthony, one of my co-workers, pedaled his bicycle to the top of an interstate overpass, parked it, and jumped to his death on the highway below.  He was only nineteen or twenty.

His suicide was a shock to everyone who knew him. If anyone had any idea what led to that final desperate act, he or she didn’t share it with the rest of us.

Because the store personnel knew of my writing ability, they asked me to compose a brief obituary, which they framed along with Anthony’s picture and posted in a frequently traveled hallway. That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write.

I barely knew Anthony. But if I’d known him better, it might’ve been even harder.

So I quoted the Charles Dickens passage and simply said that whatever had motivated Anthony was a secret. A mystery. Something we could never have seen from the outside. Or been able to prevent.

How I envy God’s ability to see inside the human heart–and the whole of every person’s being–and to understand those things we can’t know about one another. How much better our relationships with others would be if we could see them that clearly. And how much more effectively we might be able to help them.

If you have any thoughts on this subject, please share them in a comment.


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Best regards,

4 thoughts on “A Profound Secret

  1. This is an excellent post! You have a way of capturing my interest and imagination.

    As far as the ”hidden person of the heart” (1Pet 3:4) we have no way of knowing what goes on inside the secret hiding place of other souls… some things are unknowable to men but if there is a diety, and there is, there can be nothing unknowable to him.

    I like the privacy of my own mentality. Most people do not know this side of me that peeks out when we converse here on your blog. I have a facebook persona that likes to entertain, but rarely do I let my serious side out.

    Some things that were once great secrets now may be starting to come out in the open, although, in reality that have been obvious to those who knew where and how to look since the beginning of time. I am referring to our DNA. (psalm 139:14-16) It may come to pass that men someday will be able to accurately read our DNA and tell us what our natural lifespan will be, how we will get along healthwise, secret things about us we ourselves do not yet know.

    I think, however, that some things best remain unknown. our private thoughts are not always the best. (Ps 4:4) As for what prompts us to make decisions like Anthonys’ is not only unknowable but none of our business. These events tell me I know nothing about other people. I have begun to stop forming opinions about most folks because I cannot understand them. I just accept them at face value and try to enjoy my interaction with them while I still have the time and ability to enjoy anything.


    • Thanks, Tom. Being able to accept people as they are is a great blessing. I’m not sure I really want to know what led to Anthony’s suicide, but I do wish someone close to him had known and been able to dissuade him from it.

      I enjoy being myself. Sure, there are things I might casually say I wish were different about me, but in general I have no complaints, no matter how imperfect I am.

      True enough that your persona here is quite different from your Facebook persona. Interesting. I appreciate your willingness to let your serious side show here.

      I’m extra tired tonight, so if I’m not making much sense, please excuse me.


  2. actually Roger, I praise the Lord that we have not the ability to see the inner workings of our fellow creatures hearts ! the weight of the world would not be so fearsome a burden !

    but Dicken’s wise eye saw the bald Truth, though not stated Biblically, God deals with the universe, worlds, nations…yes. but God deals with each human being as an individual, His own individual creation, His own child.

    unfortunately, many (or most) non-believers are deceived in this, and “just don’t buy it.” thus we see our society divided, through deceit above all.

    there are no “groups”. only persons.

    “What God declares you to be, you are. nothing more.” Francis of Assisi


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