Trusting Jesus in a Universe That Doesn’t Have Your Back: A Christian Looks at Manifesting


Anne Kennedy

Article ID:



May 2, 2024


May 1, 2024

This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 45, number 1 (2022).

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“This is a message to my future self.” The words are spoken by a young man, the sallow sheen of his bald head muted against the clinical backdrop of his hospital bed. He looks intently out at his followers. In customary TikTok style, the camera is close on his face. “One year from now,” he goes on, “you know, when I beat cancer: How you lookin’ bro? Got a nice flo going? I know you’re pullin’ girls. And the eyebrows are back. Nice twelve-pack. And I know you’re lookin’ good.” It is August 2020 and the hashtag on the side says “manifesting.” The light tone gives way to one more serious: “These are some goals I want to set for the future, so if you didn’t do this a year from now, get doing it. By then, I want to hit a million followers. I want to be back in school.”1 Markus Hogg, last time I checked his account, had hit 941.5K followers and announced a third cancer diagnosis.

Scrolling through the manifesting hashtag on TikTok has afforded me a glimpse into more heartbreak in 2021–2022 than any of the hardships I have personally encountered. Not being overly familiar with that platform, and not having any fluency with the app, I have stumbled around on an old-fashioned laptop, clicking on a dizzying array of clips. For a Christian, like me, who hadn’t heard of “manifesting” before the era of COVID-19, I discovered I was missing a rich world of people I must be passing in the grocery aisle, scrolling past on Twitter, and nodding to on my morning walk. Almost anyone under the age of forty, or over for that matter (how old is Oprah?), seems to be manifesting.

But what is it? How do you do it? Why would you want to? More importantly, what could be a Christian response to an emerging assumption about the way the world works? Is there something true to say to someone who explains that they just moved into their dream apartment because they manifested it last year? These are some of the questions I want briefly to explore.

I Want a Million Dollars

In the early 2000s, Oprah featured what became one of the most popular books of the last twenty years, one that transformed a culture eager to abandon the old mores of hard work and bygone Judeo-Christian scruples in favor of an easier, technologically-shaped personal fulfillment. The book was called The Secret, and in it the author, Rhonda Byrne, claimed to have discovered mysterious — though eminently practicable — knowledge from ancient, learned men.2 These sages knew how to harness the powerful vibrational “quantum” energy frequencies of the Universe3 to get what they needed, and, more importantly, what they wanted. In some version of gnostic prosperity-seeking faith, possessors of the secret, people as removed from each other as Jesus of Nazareth, da Vinci, and Goethe, nevertheless understood that their thoughts could draw forth what the Universe has to offer. Either for good or for ill — for the Universe is able only to hear the thoughts of people and not to discern or interpret them — the manifester in every time and place is able to master her thoughts by listening to her feelings. She then aligns herself with those frequencies. The oft appealed to word is “intentional.” Don’t let your thoughts and feelings get away from you. Intentionally drive your desires into the Universe through your positive thinking. Examine yourself and then alter your emotional and intellectual life to put yourself in the place to receive riches and blessing.

The first step is to think about what you want. Perhaps you are lonely. Declare to yourself that a year from now you will have the relationship of your dreams. Make the declaration in the present tense. “I am married to the man of my dreams,” and then live as if it were so. Clean out your closet to make room for his clothes. Take down the pictures of yourself in your happy singleness and replace them with couples.4 Or perhaps you desire wealth without having to work. The Universe, many teachers of manifesting insist, has no idea of pennies or portfolios. What is a single dollar to the Universe, compared to a million? If you want a lot, don’t just expect that it will come, write a check to yourself like Jim Carrey did, with a fixed date.5 These sorts of desires are consequential, but perhaps you want something modest, like a good parking space.6 To prove that manifesting is real, practice on the ordinary desires of life and you will begin to gain confidence.

Many people today, claims Byrne, are natural manifesters, bringing about the good things they desire by intuitively controlling their own energy fields. She gives the example of ten-year-old Colin who wanted not to have to stand in any lines at Disney World. The first day was a disappointment. There were many lines, and he was forced to stand in them all. But that night in the hotel he saw himself — this is the key, he visualized himself — walking up to rides and getting on without having to wait. The next morning when he entered the park, the Disney staff invited him and his parents to be Epcot’s First Family of the day. As such, they were able to go on all the rides without waiting.7 This, essentially, was the experience of Jennifer Aniston, who, upon moving to Los Angeles, found herself in the sort of neighborhood with the sort of friends that would eventually become the show, Friends. She brought about the billion-dollar hit by being who she was already.8 If you aren’t getting what you want, all you have to do is become the sort of person who has what you want.

When Bad Things Happen to You It’s Your Own Fault

The Secret isn’t very long. I listened to it on YouTube while I scrubbed my kitchen, trying to tell the Universe that I didn’t want dirt on my white cabinets. Whether you are Jesus or Jennifer Aniston, claims Byrne, the “law of attraction” cannot be broken. Whatever you manifest is what you get. If you are discontented, you are redounding your negative experiences back on your head just by thinking about them. I knelt on the floor, letting my grimy cloth fall, considering the implications of her claim. Being a law, it applies universally to everyone, she insists. When bad things happen to people, it is because those people attracted those bad things.

“Often,” Byrne writes, “when people first hear this part of the Secret they recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event.”9 Yes, absolutely, I thought. Is she really suggesting that the people who died in Auschwitz perished because they attracted that death to themselves? This is a hard pill to swallow, even for people who avail themselves of the technique. Markus Hogg explains in one of his more poignant TikToks that he did nothing to deserve his cancer.10 It’s not his fault. Nevertheless, by his own positive energy he is going to beat it. Though he didn’t manifest his cancer, he will manifest his own healing. With healing just beyond his reach, he nevertheless holds out his hands, trying to control the uncontrollable.

Byrne writes, “You have a choice right now. Do you want to believe that it’s just the luck of the draw and bad things can happen to you at any time? Do you want to believe that you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time? That you have no control over circumstances?”11 That is the crucial question of life itself, and most people intuitively feel it is a perilous burden. The more compassionate manifester will sift out the “law” portion of what essentially amounts to karma. What goes around comes around some of the time, but when it does, no one can really control it. I can’t help but feel a morbid admiration for Byrne’s view, that you get only what you attract to yourself, though I was not surprised how quickly she moved on from the problem of evil to instruct the hopeful on how not to “think fat thoughts” when they are trying to lose weight. She is able, she claims, to eat whatever she wants and take no exercise because she has mastered the Secret.12

Spiritual If Not Religious Vision Boarding

“Surely this must be simple witchcraft,” I kept thinking as I watched one instructional video after another. Witchcraft cultivates a transactional view of power. It can be as simple as writing out an incantation on a properly torn paper, and then folding it either toward or away from yourself. The Witch of Wonderlust claims to be able to attract the next month’s rent or repel people she doesn’t want to have to deal with.13 Manifesting, I discovered, is an axiom among the witch community. And, while most manifesters probably do not dabble in other occult practices, it doesn’t take too many clicks around the Mindvalley University on YouTube, basking in the soothing voice of Regan Hillyer, to stumble into a profoundly spiritual realm. Her architecture of the mind teaching begins with practical advice about connecting the feelings to the thoughts, to traveling to the past to heal yourself, and finally to connect with golden orbs of light that will lead you to the fullness of your desires.14 She advertises herself within the realm of self-help, but I had to turn off one of her videos when, in a trance, she began to channel some other spiritual realm.15

Similarly, Oprah has long preached a self-oriented spirituality that doesn’t require God. The Universe (which, in her view, could be God if you wanted to call it that) is an impersonal force to be manipulated by the human mind. She has raised up a generation of Vision Boarders — people who arrange boards covered in pictures of things they want and displayed in places where they will often see them, waiting patiently for the Universe to deliver. The board gets you into the right kind of “faith” state. Your desire for something is not in the front of your conscious, anxious, overwrought mind. It’s just there. At some point your passive, yet positive stance toward the unseen force of the Universe will pull in the beautiful couch you’re lusting after.

I find the idea that God would be at the back of this conception of the universe to be curiously naïve. To nakedly pursue one’s desires always leads a person straight into the arms not of God but of His archenemy, Satan, and his legion of spirits. In limited fashion, this malign spiritual realm can hear us and sometimes, under the mighty and baffling hand of God, give us what we want, though at other times it is permitted to terrorize us (Lev. 19:31; Job 1:12; 1 Cor. 10:20–22).16 I have no doubt that when Jim Carrey wrote himself that check, while his talent was enough to guarantee him an acting career, the spiritual forces that rebel against God helped him along. His deep-set anxious gaze does not speak of spiritual wellbeing. Likewise, when Oprah says she is “a powerful manifester,” I believe her.17 She has invited the cult of the self into mainstream American culture. She has long been dabbling with forces beyond her control.

Why Is Manifesting So Depressing?

In all my research, the thing that most discouraged me was the sense of isolation that manifesting engenders. Even when a manifester gains something like “love” or a relationship, the love is so oriented toward the self that it doesn’t satisfy. People who manifest have serial relationships just like the rest of society.18 They don’t appear to find their joy in other people. They are always alone, grasping for something just out of reach.

When I encounter the God of the Bible, my first stumbling block is that God wants to give me Himself, first and foremost, and all these other things may or may not be added, if God thinks they will be good for me. What I want flows out of my rejection of God and therefore I confuse need and desire all the time. I go out searching for stuff to fill the longing for God Himself, but I don’t want Him to be the answer. The Bible calls this idolatry. I am worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:18–23).

Like so many human ideas, there is a little bit of truth at the back of manifesting. The person who cheerfully says yes to the opportunities that come along will be more successful than the person who cowers in fear at the back of the wardrobe. Likewise, circumstances can’t determine the level of your contentment, or you will never be content, as Eckhart Tolle humorously points out.19 This is a sort of mimicking of Paul’s admonition to Christians to be content with what God has given them (Phil. 4:12). I have often found that when I stop, as Jesus says, “pushing against the goads” (see Acts 26:14), everything sorts itself out. Either I get the thing I wanted, or I don’t want it anymore. So, am I then manifesting? Does positive thinking really have the power to attract material wealth and healthy relationships?

The short answer is no. But the manifester — like every person since the dawn of time — is stretching toward that primordial hope that if you do good, good should flow out of it. When the descendants of Abraham went into the Promised Land, the Lord heard their vows to obey Him on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim (Deut. 27–28). They confidently expected to keep their promises. If they tried hard, they would succeed. That the first promise was to worship God alone in a posture of placid and companiable trust, they did not appear to notice. Walking down those hills, committedly self-reliant, the curses were already mounting up. They wanted the stuff without having to ask the God who made it all.

The Providence of God Is Better

Byrne and others who preach manifesting and the law of attraction insist that everyone is always manifesting something. Your energy frequencies are inviting something into your life. The question is, is it what you want? If you don’t like your life, you have the power to change it. It is in this enticingly simple half-told truth that I think the Christian might throw pebbles into people’s shoes,20 especially of those who are not succeeding at manifesting health, happiness, and wealth. Like the person who keeps sending checks to Creflo Dollar, getting poorer all the time, and yet still believing for prosperity, the manifester is walking down a dusty path of spiritual ruin, insisting that there is green grass just on the other side of that brown hill.

If a manifester is honest, she will have to admit, on the one hand, that she does get what she deserves, and, on the other hand, that she doesn’t. If I were to go back and examine all my actions and attitudes of the past three weeks, I would be able to find the roots of corporate discontent. I was stressed about writing this article, for example, and so I was short with my children when they tried to get my attention. In my irritation, I said things I shouldn’t have said. Then I ignored their hurt feelings. Then I blamed them for being recalcitrant. Finally, it all came to a head, and I had to apologize to everyone, and I still didn’t have the article done. My stress affected all the people in my household. In Christian terms, sin begat more sin.

Taking this condition of myself, as a manifester, I would certainly have to go back and figure out where everything went wrong. I would benefit from taking responsibility for my own part in the misery of our household. But, in the aftermath, I would need to concentrate even more on myself and my feelings. Rather than merely apologizing to my children and forcing myself to write the article, I would need to live as if the article already existed, as if I had no stress, and as if we were all perfectly happy. Various lies would have to be told about how we are as a family and about my own capacity to produce deathless prose. Most of all, I would need to keep a vice grip control on what, for me, amounts to a whole universe of emotional confusion.

The Christian response to this situation might look similar — taking responsibility, cheerfully going on with the task — but rather than pretending that I feel happy or living as if the article is already somewhere in existence, I can, through prayer and repentance, ask Jesus to forgive the sins I committed against my children and to give me His grace for the task. Indeed, I am invited to recognize that the fact that I have children and a mind are due entirely to God’s provident care. I haven’t gotten what I deserved — which, because I sinned, was death and hell. On the contrary, I have received mercy. God gave His only Son as a sacrifice for that sin precisely because I was going to get what I deserved and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I can’t change myself into the kind of person who only gets good things. Because I am a sinner, it is impossible. But God in Christ is able to accomplish the impossible by the power of His death and resurrection. And then, with lavish generosity, He, through power of His own Spirit, remakes me into a person who is able to bear the goodness of God.

Indeed, so completely does God turn over the necessary karmic recompense of evil that He is able to use the awful things themselves to accomplish good. The terrible tragedies that befall us, not just as a result of our own sin, though of course that is always a factor, but because of the general fallen state of the world, are not the final word. When we put ourselves into God’s hands — through true faith and trust — not a single experience, whether bad or good, is lost. God accomplishes His perfect will in the cosmos through them all. The Christian can confidently say to the Markus Hoggs of the world who did nothing to deserve a diagnosis of cancer that the God who created and ordered the cosmos for His own glory intimately associates Himself with us in our ruin and provides an everlasting way out of it. He comes to us in our grief by the power of the cross, making us alive by the power of His resurrection. He shows us who He is and who we are in Him. Ultimately, nothing can separate us from His perfect love — the greatest and most perfect gift anyone can receive.

Anne Kennedy, MDiv, is the author of Nailed It: 365 Readings for Angry or Worn-Out People (SquareHalo Books, rev. 2020). She blogs about current events and theological trends at Preventing Grace on


  1. Markus Hogg (markus_hogg), “We Are Just at the Beginning of the Process Now,” TikTok, August 24, 2020,
  2. Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (New York: Atria Books, 2018), 4–5, Kindle.
  3. The universe is often capitalized in The Secret, as if it is a person.
  4. Kathryn Woodward Thomas, “Calling in the One: How to Attract Your Ideal Lover,”Mindvalley Talks, YouTube, Oct 16, 2019, 49:53,
  5. Jim Carrey, “How to Manifest What You Want,” World Farmacy, YouTube, May 25, 2020, 7:00,
  6. Tess Whitehurst, “How to Manifest a Parking Spot (& Other Stuff),” YouTube, August 6, 2018, 3:22,
  7. Byrne, The Secret, 45.
  8. Jennifer Aniston, “Jennifer Aniston on Manifesting Friends and Joke Feud with Drew Over Adam Sandler,” The Drew Barrymore Show, YouTube, September 13, 2021, 6:08,
  9. Byrne, The Secret, 28.
  10. Markus Hogg (markus_hogg), “We Are Getting through This Together,” TikTok, November 11, 2020,, explicit language.
  11. Byrne, The Secret, 28.
  12. Byrne, The Secret, 58.
  13. Olivia (@thewitchofwonderlust), “How to Boost Your Spells and Manifest Anything with Petitions,” Witchcraft 101, July 7, 2019, 11:28,
  14. Regan Hillyer, “This Is How You Can Manifest Your Ideal Reality,” Mindvalley Talks,YouTube, December 28, 2018, 1:20:26,
  15. Regan Hillyer, “Explore Your Energetic Architecture System for Faster Manifestation,” Mindvalley Talks, YouTube, September 18, 2020, 30:29,
  16. The young lady, Cassiie Valdezz, gives a moving testimony of the door she opened to an unsought spiritual world through manifesting: “The Truth about Manifesting, Why I Stopped Manifesting,” YouTube, Sep 28, 2020, 19:04,
  17. Oprah Winfrey, “Oprah Gives Master Class on Manifestation and Vision Boards,” A Wrinkle in Time, Black Tree TV, YouTube, March 8, 2018, 4:21,
  18. Thomas, “Calling in the One.”
  19. Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Conscious Manifestation,” Eckhart Tolle Teachings, YouTube, September 30, 2021, 10:13,
  20. See Greg Koukl, “A Stone in His Shoe,” Stand to Reason, February 21, 2013,
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